Friday, February 3rd, 2023
Friday, February 3rd, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Shippers are the target of latest Great Lakes lawsuit

By Yvonne Swager

Contributing Writer

Ann Arbor, Mich. – The possibility of conservation groups
bringing a lawsuit against shipping companies is the latest in
legal maneuvering regarding ballast water release in the Great
Lakes.

Several shipping companies were served notice of the intent to
file suit by the National Wildlife Federation and its conservation
partners, including the League of Ohio Sportsmen, in late June.

The lawsuit charges named shipping companies with violating the
federal Clean Water Act of 1972 for discharging ballast water
containing non-native species into the Great Lakes. The CWA
prohibits vessels from discharging pollutants, including biological
materials, into U.S. waters without a permit. The U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency granted shippers an exemption,
although a federal court in California ruled it illegal in
2005.

‘Every name mentioned in the suit has been in violation in the
last five years,’ said Joel Brammeier, associate director of policy
for the Chicago-based Alliance for the Great Lakes, a lawsuit
partner. ‘Any one of those could be the cause of the next invasive
species.’

The records were reviewed, Brammeier said, and ships engaging in
past port operations that would have required ballast discharge did
not have permits.

‘It’s not about going after dollars as much as getting
protection for the Great Lakes,’ he said.

In addition to the League of Ohio Sportsmen, the state’s largest
conservation group, partners of the National Wildlife Federation
and Alliance for the Great Lakes include the Indiana Wildlife
Federation, Michigan United Conservation Clubs, the Minnesota
Conservation Federation, the Prairie Rivers Network, and the
Wisconsin Wildlife Federation.

Gary Botzek, executive director for the Minnesota Conservation
Federation, said the group’s interest in the lawsuit is ‘based on
our appreciation for Lake Superior.’

Specifically, he said, there’s concern about the movement of
viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS) into the big lake. The virus has
resulted in large-scale fish kills of various species in the
eastern Great Lakes area.

‘We’re all concerned about the (VHS) invasion, beyond the Great
Lakes and into our inland lakes and streams,’ he said.

Botzek said shippers’ response to the threat of a lawsuit would
determine which, if any, companies are subject to a suit that could
be filed in August.

‘It’s time for them to take action,’ he said.

Brammeier said conservation groups have become frustrated
because the federal government is not actively enforcing the CWA,
which could lead to disastrous consequences for the Great Lake
region.

‘If Congress would stand up and do its part, it would change the
field of play in the Great Lakes,’ Brammeier said.

Conservation groups and others believe commercial shipping is a
primary source of the hundreds of aquatic invasive species (AIS)
now identified in the region. In an attempt to reduce the spread of
AIS by commercial vessels, Michigan passed a law effective this
year requiring all oceangoing vessels engaging in port operations
to obtain a permit from the Michigan Department of Environmental
Quality.

‘Michigan did the right thing in the absence of federal action,’
Brammeier said.

In response to Michigan’s law, one company named in the recent
suit, Fednav Limited, is suing the state of Michigan.

Brammeier said suing Michigan for trying to protect its waters
is irresponsible, considering groups estimate invasive species in
the Great Lakes cost taxpayers $120 billion each year. Scientists
have documented at least 183 aquatic exotic species and another 124
terrestrial exotics within the Great Lakes basin, the EPA reported
this month.

‘Rather than recognize the cost of invasive species to the
United States, shipping companies continue to put the cost of
invasive species on the backs of the U.S. citizens,’ Brammeier
said.

The next hearing regarding that lawsuit is next month, according
to John Jamian, president of Seaway Great Lakes Trade Association,
whose member companies now are being sued by the conservation
groups. He believes the upcoming hearing inspired legal action
against the shipping companies.

Jamian also believes the companies will have difficulty making
their case against the shipping companies.

‘Some companies listed don’t even have ships coming into the
Great Lakes,’ he said.

According to Jamian, the shipping industry claims responsibility
for about one-third of the area’s invasive species, and that the
most recent species that may be attributed to shipping is the goby
– and it’s been around for 10 years.

‘The scam going on right now is misleading information by groups
saying every species is transferred by ship, and it’s simply not
true,’ he said.

Regulation in the late 1990s provided for complete mid-ocean
ballast exchange, Jamian said, and that regulation has been
successful. He said any organisms not removed in the exchange would
not survive the shift from freshwater to saltwater.

The shipping industry is sharing the blame for the spread of
VHS, but Jamian said there’s no proof ships brought the disease to
Great Lakes waterways.

Jamian said that even if the shipping industry is responsible
for some of the Great Lakes’ invasive species, shutting down
shipping won’t stop the other sources of invasion or pollution.

‘They should go after every recreational boater that doesn’t
have a toilet on board, every municipality, because storm overflow
is raw sewage, every power plant and every homeowner that
fertilizes (his or her) lawn,’ he said.

Jamian said ballast water treatment systems are in the process
of being manufactured, and will have to pass global and local
standards before being installed. He said the shipping industry
wants to see the systems approved and in place as early as next
year. He said the industry is optimistic about the new technology
being developed and would welcome federal legislation regarding an
approved ballast water treatment system.

‘Our industry is busy with the science of solving the problem,
not the politics,’ Jamian said. ‘At the end of the day, it’s our
lakes and our backyards. We want clean lakes as much as anybody
else.’

The groups filing suit against the shipping companies say the
suit will be filed in federal court following a 60-day waiting
period.

Staff Writer Tim Spielman and the Associated Press contributed
to this report.

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