One US state’s internal debate over ballast rules serves as a reminder of the nation’s journey towards consistency, believes Paul Gunton
I am recording this as the Michigan State legislature comes to the end of a two-week Thanksgiving break. If it picks up where it left off, it seems likely that bills passed by the state’s House and Senate to adopt federal ballast water rules instead of its existing state requirements will soon be enrolled into one Bill for the state’s Republican governor Rick Snyder to sign.
Michigan’s own rules set higher standards than federal requirements and many of the bills’ supporters say that its ports are losing business as a result. But lobbyists are urging Governor Snyder not sign on environmental grounds and he probably won’t.
Five years ago – almost to the day – Governor Snyder put a wide-ranging policy document online which includes some robust comments about how the state should “remain a leader on ballast water standards”.
It contains this warning: “If the federal government won’t protect Michigan’s commerce and the integrity of the Great Lakes, then we will remind it of its obligations.” Having made that commitment, can he sign this bill? I don’t think so.
I hesitate to take sides in this but, from this distance, consistency looks attractive.
My point in mentioning this is because it underlines the complexities of dealing with US ballast water requirements: US Coast Guard, EPA and many state requirements, not to mention the pending Commercial Vessel Incidental Discharge Act, VIDA, whose aim is to bring everything together into a single federal structure under the Coast Guard.
If the arguments in Michigan are repeated in every other state that has its own ballast rules and are then mirrored nationally as VIDA makes progress, then America’s road to ballast management consistency will be a long one. Fifty years ago, Paul Simon wrote the song America, about a road trip that had begun in the state. “Michigan seems like a dream to me now” he sang.
In due course, we too may look back to Michigan, in our case remembering it as a dream start to a national solution. Either that, or as a nightmare.