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Great Lakes

U.S. Senate blocks bill on ballast water; EPA continues oversight

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Sunrise walk

A man walks his dogs as the sun rises over Lake Michigan.

RACINE — Environmentalists and Great Lakes advocates Wednesday were breathing a sigh of relief after the U.S. Senate voted against a measure that would have had an impact on the Clean Water Act.

But one of the state’s U.S. senators said the legislation intended to regulate ballast discharges from ships would have simplified regulation and enforcement.

On Wednesday, the Senate narrowly blocked a piece of legislation on a measure that would have allowed for the U.S. Coast Guard — not the Environmental Protection Agency — to regulate ballast water dumped into bodies of water like Lake Michigan. Ballast water is carried in the ballast tanks of ships in order to improve stability and balance.

“The Coast Guard legislation on the floor today included a dangerous ballast water provision that would allow for the spread of invasive species in our Great Lakes, hurting local communities and our coastal economy,” U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., said in a statement. “I cannot support legislation that harms our nation’s Great Lakes, so I led my colleagues to stand against this legislation. Now that it’s clear this bill will not pass, we should remove the ballast water provision and pass a bill that supports our Coast Guard, protects our Great Lakes and helps our coastal economy.”

Baldwin voted against the provision.

An aide to U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson’s office said Johnson, R-Wis., who voted in favor of the provision, “sees this as an interstate commerce issue where a federal standard is more appropriate than the current regulatory patchwork based on state land borders given the unified nature of the Great Lakes.”

‘Threat to sport fishing’

State Sen. Bob Wirch, D-Somers, and state Rep. Greta Neubauer, D-Racine, lobbied Johnson and Baldwin to oppose the legislation “backed by the shipping industry to loosen restrictions on dumping ballast waters.”

“We think that’s a step backwards in protecting our lake,” Wirch said before the vote. “The measure exempts ballast water from the Clean Water Act and that’s a real concern of ours.”

As a member of the Kenosha Sport Fishing and Conservation Association, Wirch said the measure would have had an effect on fishing.

“We see it as a direct threat to sport fishing,” Wirch said. “Certainly the invasive species have done enough damage to Lake Michigan; we don’t want to make it even worse for the lake in the future.”

Neubauer said Lake Michigan is a resource that needs to be protected.

“It is critical that the EPA remain involved in regulating ballast water dumping for ships traveling in and out of the Great Lakes,” Neubauer said. “The Great Lakes are an essential part of Wisconsin life, from food and drinking water to tourism and local industry.”

“Certainly the invasive species have done enough damage to Lake Michigan; we don’t want to make it even worse for the lake in the future.” State Sen. Bob Wirch, D-Somers

“Certainly the invasive species have done enough damage to Lake Michigan; we don’t want to make it even worse for the lake in the future.”

State Sen. Bob Wirch, D-Somers

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Reporter

Ricardo Torres covers federal, state and Racine County politics along with the Village of Mount Pleasant. He bleeds Wisconsin sports teams.

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