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Bill would regulate ballast water

Published (2/22/2008)
By Nick Busse
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A bill that would regulate ballast water discharges by oceangoing vessels in Lake Superior had its first hearing in a House division, but will apparently require more work before it goes further.

HF2963, sponsored by Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul), is designed to curb the spread of aquatic invasive species, including the deadly viral hemorrhagic septicemia fish-killing virus, by ships that travel through the Great Lakes. The House Game, Fish and Forestry Division laid the bill over Feb. 18.

Aquatic invasive organisms can be transported across great distances by surviving in ships’ ballast tanks and then being discharged along with the ballast water into new places, where they often wreak ecological havoc. The bill would establish regulations through the Pollution Control Agency that would force ships to treat their ballast water for invasive species before discharging it.

Henry VanOffelen, a natural resource scientist with the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, said 30 years of regulatory inaction has allowed nonnative species to invade the Great Lakes at a rate of roughly one new species per year. He said ballast water discharges are the source for a majority of the species.

Some would prefer a federal solution to the problem. Adolph Ojard, executive director of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority, said the maritime community supports ballast water regulations but would prefer a national and/or international policy.

Paul Eger, assistant commissioner of the PCA, said his agency is working on a permitting process for ballast discharges that could be implemented as early as September. He said the bill in its current form was problematic, and that a series of technical changes would likely be necessary before it could become law.

Division Chairman Rep. David Dill (DFL-Crane Lake) agreed with Eger, adding that his division would likely “iron out a few wrinkles” before moving the bill forward.

A companion bill, SF2517, sponsored by Sen. Ann Rest (DFL-New Hope), awaits action by the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

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