Environmentalists push for Great Lakes ocean shipping ban

By: | at 08:00 PM | International Trade  

But economic costs would be high

>By Peter A. Buxbaum, AJOT

A political dispute may lead to a moratorium of ocean-going ships on the Great Lakes, at least if an environmental group has its way. The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition called in late May for just such a moratorium until Congress passes legislation that stops the introduction of aquatic invasive species into the lakes.

The coalition supports passage of the Great Lakes Collaboration Implementation Act, a bill which has been pending in Congress for a number of years and which, among other things, would require ship operators to treat ballast water carried on ships and discharged into the lakes. The environmentalists claim that the ballast water is responsible for the introduction of alien species into the lakes.

‘Our call for a moratorium stems from the fact that the Great Lakes are under attack and Congress has yet to respond,’ said Jeff Skelding, the coalition’s campaign director. ‘Congressional delay is exacerbating the problem and costing citizens money.’

According to the coalition, there are 185 invasive species in the Great Lakes, with one new non-native species discovered every 28 weeks. The coalition claims that over 60% of all non-native invaders discovered in the Great Lakes since the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959 are attributable to ballast water discharge from ocean-going vessels. The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition is led by the National Wildlife Federation and the National Parks Conservation Association, and also includes over 90 zoos, aquariums, museums, and hunting, fishing, and environmental organizations.

International shipping comprises only seven percent of cargo traffic on the lakes, according to a study undertaken by transportation experts. But the same study calculates it would cost the shipping public an additional $55 million annually to move freight to other modes of transportation such as laker vessel, barge, rail, and truck.

‘A regional crisis’

The call for a moratorium came as the latest non-native pathogen in the Great Lakes, a deadly fish virus, is spreading in the region. ‘Congressional inaction has caused the situation to degrade into a regional crisis marked by a lot of frustration and finger pointing, and very little in terms of results,’ said Skelding. ‘Until protections are in place, we stand committed to protecting the Great Lakes and its citizens through a moratorium on ocean vessel operation on the lakes and the use of transportation alternatives.’ He acknowledged, however, that, ‘a moratorium would likely impact people’s lives.’

The coalition has also written a letter to Democratic and Republican leaders of the Congressional transportation committees in both houses of Congress, outlining the need to pass a bill this year that comprehensively addresses aquatic invasive species. ‘Allowing ocean-going vessels to continue entering the Great Lakes without requiring them to treat their ballast water leads to more invasions of invasive species and to greater economic and environmental harm of the Great Lakes and US waters,’ the letter said.

The coalition claims the Great Lakes are an entryway for invasive species to the rest of the country. Recently, the quagga mussel, originally introduced in the Great Lakes, was discovered in Lake Mead, Nevada, according to Skelding. Other invasive species introduced through the Great Lakes include the zebra mussel, which has led to the production of excessive algae in some portions of the lakes; the round goby, which preys on some native species; and the Eurasian ruffe, which competes with lake species for food.

Transportation experts estimate that US and Canadian shippers would have to spend an additional $55 million to move cargo on alternative transportation modes such as laker vessel, barge, rail, and truck. James Roach, a transportation consultant from Grand Rapids, MI, undertook a study to determine the additional transportation costs that would be incurred if ocean vessels ceased plyin


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