Thursday, June 19, 2003

Voinovich pushes regulations to guard against invasive species

By Malia Rulon
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - A bill that would spend about $167 million a year to guard against the introduction of harmful species into U.S. waterways needs to better coordinate efforts between state and federal agencies, administration and industry officials have told a Senate panel.

The bill would institute the first screening process to address the accidental introduction of species into waterways. It also would mandate that ships entering all U.S. waterways empty their ballast water in the open ocean to clear their tanks of any hitchhiking organisms.

Sens. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, and Carl Levin, D-Mich., are pushing the bill in the Senate because they say strict new regulations are needed to protect domestic waterways from about $138 billion in damage that is caused each year by invasive species.

"These invasive species are already wreaking havoc in the (Great) Lakes and our coastal waters, and will continue to do so until they are stopped," Voinovich said.

In 1988, the zebra mussel was found in the Great Lakes after apparently being carried in a trans-Atlantic ship's ballast water, which was emptied in the lakes. Since then, the mussels have clogged water pipes, ships and docks.

Joseph Angelo, a spokesman for the Coast Guard, told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Tuesday that his agency already is working to establish a mandatory ballast water program. He said the bill would complicate this process because it calls on the Environmental Protection Agency to manage the program.

"The responsibility to develop and promulgate a ballast water discharge standard should remain with one agency," Angelo said.

James Weakley, president of the Lake Carriers' Association, said the industry is concerned about the regulations for how ships will change their ballast water.

Weakley, of Avon, Ohio, said the bill's standard is too high and would be difficult to manage and regulate.

Environmentalists praised the bill, saying it would institute a number of necessary tools to manage and protect domestic waterways.

This bill "adopts the most cost-effective approach by focusing on three areas where we all need to improve: prevention, early detection and rapid response," said Sebastian Hargrove, a spokesman from the Nature Conservancy.

The bill would set aside $137.5 million over five years so that newly discovered invasive species can be dealt with quickly. It also would spend $18.75 million over five years to teach boaters how to clean their boats to prevent accidental transport of species.

The Senate bill would cost $836 million over five years. The money was not included in President Bush's 2004 budget, said Matt Hogan, deputy director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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