Chicago, IL (November 14, 2018) – Today the U.S. Senate passed legislation which changes how ballast water discharges from ships – the most common pathway for invasive species to enter the Great Lakes – are regulated. Great Lakes champions in the Senate worked tirelessly to improve the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA), which was included in the U.S. Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2017, and protect the Great Lakes. The version of VIDA passed today is dramatically improved from an industry-led proposal offered up and then defeated by Senate Democrats in April.

Ballast tanks of ocean-going ships and ships that operate solely within the Great Lakes system are a major pathway for the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species around the lakes. These harmful critters, like zebra mussels and round gobies, have caused irreparable harm to the Great Lakes ecosystem and cost the region billions of dollars since the late 1980s.

The issue has been closely watched in the Great Lakes region, with tens of thousands of letters and phone calls from residents to elected officials over the past few years urging protection of the lakes from aquatic invasive species. In 2008, after several lawsuits, action from Congress, and states passing their own rules, the federal government created requirements for placing ballast water treatment systems onboard ships. Yet for nearly a decade, the shipping industry pushed forward versions of VIDA that would have significantly weakened these rules and put the lakes at risk.

“We applaud the Great Lakes champions in the Senate who fought hard to protect the Great Lakes from the threat of aquatic invasive species,” said Alliance for the Great Lakes Vice President for Policy Molly Flanagan. “The version of VIDA passed by the Senate today is dramatically improved from a bad version of the bill that Senate Democrats blocked in April 2018. We greatly appreciate the Senators who have listened to the science on this issue and heard the concerns of Great Lakes region residents.”

The improved version of VIDA that passed the Senate today includes several provisions that are important to the Great Lakes. It maintains the regulation of ballast water and incidental discharges under the Clean Water Act. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will continue to set standards for these discharges while the U.S. Coast Guard will ensure technologies function safely for vessels and handle monitoring and enforcement. The bill uniquely allows Great Lakes states to work together to go beyond the requirements of federal law to protect the Lakes if enough states agree. Additionally, the bill authorizes $50 million to improve monitoring and rapid response to new aquatic invasive species found in the Great Lakes and to support the development of technologies to better protect the lakes from polluted ballast water.

States will be consulted as new standards are developed and have the ability to enforce the new standards in their waters. Unfortunately, the bill preempts states from adopting standards that are stronger than federal law. States throughout the country, including in the Great Lakes region, have used this important authority to protect their waters from ballast water discharges. However, existing federal regulations and state rules will remain in place until the new federal standards are implemented under this Act.

The Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2017 still requires action by the U.S. House of Representatives.

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Media contact: Jennifer Caddick, (312) 445-9760, jcaddick@greatlakes.org