By Kaley Fech
Capital News Service
Michigan’s ballast water regulations are deterring oceangoing vessels from entering Michigan ports to pick up exports.
Rep. Dan Lauwers, R-Brockway Township, has introduced a bill that he says will bring those ships back to the state. The bill has passed the House and is headed for the Senate.
“Michigan’s ballast water regulations are the most stringent,” he said. “The regulations drove the state’s export business to neighboring states.”
His bill would get rid of the current ballast water discharge requirements for oceangoing vessels and adopt the federal regulations.
Ballast water is water in a ship that is taken in and let out, depending on the weight of the ship’s cargo, increasing the ship’s stability.
Ballast water has been blamed for the introduction of invasive species into the Great Lakes. Some environmentalists worry that easing the standards will bring more invasive species.
The regulations have deterred oceangoing vessels from entering Michigan ports to pick up exports like grain, said Jim Weakley, the president of the Lake Carriers’ Association.
Instead, these vessels pick up Michigan grain in cities like Toledo and Windsor, he said.
As a result, grain is transported by truck or train out of the state and loaded on the ships in other ports.
“They basically stopped calling on Michigan,” Weakley said. “The grain is trucked to these other ports and loaded on to those same ships that would have gone to Michigan ports if not for Michigan laws.”
This impacts revenue for Michigan farmers, he said. Farmers pay more to send their grain to ports out of state, but they cannot charge more for it because the buyer would then simply buy it from someone else.
“When that happens, the additional cost of trucking the grain out of Michigan simply cuts into the profit the farmer receives,” he said. “The farmer has to pay for double handling.”
Moving Michigan’s exports out of the state by truck or rail also creates more air pollution, Weakley said. Because a ship can carry more cargo than a truck or train, more trucks and trains are needed to transport the cargo to another port. One ship can carry the cargo of multiple trucks or trains while consuming less fuel and emitting less exhaust.
Michigan’s regulations were created in 2005 because the Legislature felt the federal standards did not do enough to protect the Great Lakes. Oceangoing vessels are prohibited from discharging ballast water in Michigan waters without a permit from the Department of Environmental Quality. The permit allows four types of ballast water treatment, and every oceangoing vessel has to use one of the four approved treatments.
Since then, the U.S. Coast Guard has updated its standards for ballast water. Oceangoing vessels have several options for ballast water management. The regulations set a performance standard for discharged water and allow for more treatment options than those allowed by Michigan law, Weakley said.
Changing to those standards would put the states and Canadian provinces in the Great Lakes region on a level playing field, Lauwers said.
“This bill simply says Michigan is going to use the Coast Guard federal standards as the requirement for seeking a permit to be able to discharge ballast water in the state,” he said.
Some environmental groups are concerned that changing the state’s standards will open the door for invasive species.
“We think it’s really sending the wrong message,” said James Clift, the policy director for the Michigan Environmental Council. “We think that the Michigan standards are where everyone should be.”
This bill would give the power to protect the Great Lakes to the federal government at a time when the federal protections for natural resources are being cut back, Clift said.
If Michigan’s regulations were to fall in line with federal regulations, Weakley said he believes oceangoing vessels would return to Michigan ports.
“It’s always a risk when business goes away to try and get it to come back,” he said. “You have to give them an incentive to come back. I do think they’ll come back; whether it’ll be the same volume, I don’t know.”
Lauwers said his bill is meant to bring the export business back to Michigan.
“Everyone else has continued shipping all along,” he said. “By making it clear in the legislation that we are adopting the federal standards, we’re telling the world Michigan ports are open for export.”