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E-M:/ Great Lakes Vulnerable to Invasive Species Under Weak EPA Permit, Assert Groups

Alliance for the Great Lakes ● Great Lakes United ● Indiana Wildlife Federation ● League of Ohio Sportsmen ● Michigan United Conservation Clubs ● Minnesota Conservation Federation ● National Wildlife Federation ● Ohio Environmental Council ● Prairie Rivers Network ● Save The River ● Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council ● Wisconsin Wildlife Federation
Great Lakes Vulnerable to Invasive Species Under Weak EPA Permit, Assert Groups
‘Pass Strong, Federal Protections Now,’ Urge Conservation Groups
ANN ARBOR, MICH. (Aug. 5, 2008)—The Great Lakes will remain vulnerable to aquatic invasive species if a weak EPA permit goes into effect, asserted conservation groups in public comments submitted on Friday. The Great Lakes advocates urged the U.S. Senate to pass quickly federal legislation to address the serious and ongoing threat of invasive species.
“EPA whiffed on the chance to stop ocean-going ships from discharging invasive species from their ballast water into the Great Lakes,” said Andy Buchsbaum, regional executive director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes office. “EPA’s proposed permit requires these ships to do nothing more to their ballast water discharges into the Great Lakes than they do today. While we urge the EPA to comply with the Clean Water Act and revise its weak, status-quo permit, the most effective solution to the invasive species threat is for the U.S. Senate to act now to pass strong, national protections before invasive species cause the collapse of the lakes.”
EPA proposed the permit following two court decisions finding that the agency has for more than 30 years illegally exempted ballast water discharges from its Clean Water Act discharge permit program. Under the proposed permit ocean vessels entering U.S. waters would have to exchange their ballast or perform a saltwater flush of empty ballast tanks in the open ocean for the next five years. This practice is already in place for vessels entering the Great Lakes- St. Lawrence River. The permit is set to go in to effect Sept. 30.
“EPA is sidestepping its responsibility to force ships to achieve water quality standards,” said Joel Brammeier, vice president for policy for the Alliance for the Great Lakes. “Zero discharge of invasive species is the only option. Under the draft permit, you can’t get there from here. The U.S. Senate can pass today legislation that will provide strong, effective and immediate protection from invasive species to the citizens, businesses and cities which rely on the Great Lakes.”
Comment on EPA’s permit comes as tough, federal legislation to halt the influx of invasive species into the Great Lakes and other U.S. waters is stalled in Congress. Legislation passed in the House of Representatives and pending in the Senate would require ocean vessels to meet environmentally protective standards through installation of technology to clean ballast before discharge. The timeline for installation begins in 2009, culminating in all ocean vessels being equipped with technology by 2012. The conservation groups submitting comments support passage of ballast water legislation.
“The EPA permit delays any serious solution to this problem for the foreseeable future,” said Jennifer Nalbone, campaign director of navigation and invasive species for Great Lakes United. “The quickest way to improve protections is by passing ballast water legislation currently stalled in the U.S. Senate. That legislation will require technology installation onboard vessels as early as next year.”
The No. 1 way non-native species like the zebra mussel enter the Great Lakes is through ballast water discharge from ocean-going vessels. Over 60 percent of all non-native invaders discovered since the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959 are attributable to ballast water discharge from ocean-going vessels. One new non-native species is discovered, on average, in the Great Lakes every 28 weeks.
Invasive species foul beaches, wreak havoc on the fishery, clog water intake valves of cities and utilities, and harm fish and wildlife. Invasive species are crashing the food chain. Aquatic invasive species cost the eight Great Lakes states and its citizens at least $200 million per year, according to researchers at Notre Dame University. Many scientists believe that invasive species are the worst problem facing the Great Lakes.
“In the global economy, plant and animal species show up where they don't belong,” said Dr. Grenetta Thomassey, policy director for Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council. “When conditions are right, they invade ecosystems and dependant economies with terrible consequences.  In the Great Lakes region, we are experiencing some of the worst cases of freshwater invasions in the world. It’s time for everyone concerned – including the EPA – to take effective steps to slam the door on the rapid rate of new invaders.”
“The Great Lakes fishery is critically important to the millions of anglers that use the lakes on an annual basis,” said George Meyer, executive director for the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation. “The financial loss caused by the presence of invasive species is damaging to the important tourism industry of the Great Lakes states.”
In written comments, the conservation groups assert that the EPA needs to revise the permit to meet water quality standards.
The groups also assert that the agency does not have the authority to issue a general permit—the EPA has delegated to the states the ability to administer Clean Water Act discharge permit program. While the conservation groups maintain that the quickest way to gain new protections is through Congressional action, they nevertheless are pursuing all opportunities to put in place strong, national protections and want the EPA to revise the weak permit because the federal agency has not delegated authority to every state and a strong permit can serve as a model for state programs
National Wildlife Federation submitted comments on behalf of the Alliance for the Great Lakes, Great Lakes United, Indiana Wildlife Federation, League of Ohio Sportsmen, Michigan United Conservation Clubs, Minnesota Conservation Federation, Ohio Environmental Council, Prairie Rivers Network, Save the River, Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council and Wisconsin Wildlife Federation.
“Each day here on the St. Lawrence River, we watch as ocean-going vessels make their way into the Great Lakes, each possibly carrying the next devastating invasive species,” said Jennifer J. Caddick, Save The River executive director. “It is appalling that the U.S. EPA has put forth a new proposed permit that continues current, ineffective programs, which continue this game of Russian roulette with the river and lakes.”
“EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, as chair of the Great Lakes Task Force, has personally witnessed the destruction that invasive species have caused to the Great Lakes ecosystem,” said Donna Stine, senior policy director for Michigan United Conservation Clubs. “And this havoc doesn’t just stop at the Great Lakes. Zebra mussels are now turning up in Western states. That EPA has chosen to ignore the program is unconscionable. Michigan hunters and anglers expect more.  It is time that this national disaster is addressed by the U.S. Senate passing federal legislation that slams the door on invasive species.”
“Lake Superior is a regional treasure and deserves to be protected,” said Gary Botzek, executive director of the Minnesota Conservation Federation. “The EPA permit just rubber stamps management practices that have already been put in place by the Coast Guard and Seaway. This permit needs significant improvements if it’s going to protect our waters to the fullest, which is why the U.S. Senate needs to step up to the plate now and pass ballast water legislation that will quickly and effectively put protections in place for the citizens, businesses and communities which rely on the Great Lakes.”
“It is unbelievable that 20 years after the invasion of the zebra mussel the U.S. EPA proposes weak ballast water provisions as the solution to slamming the door on aquatic invasive species via ballast water,” said Kristy Meyer, agricultural & clean water programs managing director for the Ohio Environmental Council.  “More than 180 invasive species have become established in the Great Lakes since 1959.  Once these destructive pests get a toehold, it is virtually impossible to limit their expansion and their destruction.  It is up to the U.S. Senate to really protect our drinking water, our economy, our livelihood.  They should follow the lead of the U.S. House of Representatives and pass strong ballast water legislation this year.”
“The Great Lakes are facing catastrophic and permanent damage from invasive species,” Buchsbaum said. “But EPA’s permit does nothing to protect them. We need the U.S. Senate to act now to shut the door on invasive species. The future of the lakes is at stake.”
For more information, including the full comments by the conservation organization, visit: http://www.nwf.org/greatlakes
For Immediate Release:
August 5, 2008
Jordan Lubetkin, National Wildlife Federation, (734) 887-7100, lubetkin@nwf.org
Andy Buchsbaum, National Wildlife Federation, (734) 717-3665, buchsbaum@nwf.org
Joel Brammeier, Alliance for the Great Lakes, (312) 939-0838 x 224,
Jennifer Nalbone, Great Lakes United, (716) 213-0408, jen@glu.org
Grenetta Thomassey, Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, (231) 347-1181 x 115, grenetta@watershedcouncil.org
George Meyer, Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, (608) 516-5545, georgemeyer@tds.net
Jennifer J. Caddick, Save The River, (315) 686-2010, jennifer@savetheriver.org
Donna Stine, Michigan United Conservation Clubs, (517) 346-6487, dstine@mucc.org
Gary Botzek, Minnesota Conservation Federation, (651) 293-9295, gary@capitolconnections.com
Kristy Meyer, The Ohio Environmental Council, (614) 487-7506, kristy@theoec.org

Jordan Lubetkin
Senior Regional Communications Manager
National Wildlife Federation - Great Lakes Office
213 West Liberty, Suite 200 | Ann Arbor, MI 48104
Phone: 734-887-7109 | Fax: 734-887-7199 | Cell: 734-904-1589
NWF's mission is to inspire Americans to protect wildlife for our children's future. www.nwf.org/news/
Working to restore the Great Lakes by offering solutions to sewage contamination, invasive species and other threats. www.healthylakes.org