WASHINGTON A measure that would limit New Yorks ability to keep invasive species out of the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario passed the House but faces trouble in the Senate.
The House on Tuesday approved by voice vote a bill outlining Coast Guard programs, which included a prohibition on states enforcing restrictions on ships ballast water that are more strict than federal rules, as are New Yorks.
And while the bill sets a federal standard for concentrations of foreign organisms, that provision is too weak, New York lawmakers said.
Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, said he would have voted against the measure had a recorded vote been taken, as did Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport.
The outcome in the Senate is much less clear. The companion bill passed earlier this month by the Senate Commerce Committee contains no provision on ballast, which would fall under the jurisdiction of the Environment and Public Works Committee.
That committees chairwoman, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., opposed a similar effort on ballast in 2008 and likely would do so again, said Steven A. Fisher, executive director of the American Great Lakes Ports Association. And in the Democratic-led Senate, her objection probably would be enough to keep ballast regulations out of the legislation.
Theres no removing them from this process, Mr. Fisher said, referring to the EPW Committee. I dont hold out much hope.
Thus, Congress may play no role in ballast limitations, leaving the issue to the Coast Guard and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The Ports Association supports the measure, asserting that New Yorks standards far more restrictive than international guidelines effectively would keep ocean ships out of the St. Lawrence Seaway because the technology does not exist to keep ballast tanks that clean.
Ballast, which ships take on or expel to maintain balance, has been a source of invasive species on the Great Lakes, but not the only one. Environmental groups say the federal government has been too slow to take on the threat; the Obama administration is still working on standards that were supposed to be proposed last December.
Rep. Slaughter, ranking Democrat on the House Rules Committee, said in a news release that the bill would set weak national standards for the regulation of ballast water discharge and would prevent states like New York from taking appropriate action to protect our waterways.
She added, I will refuse to compromise my efforts to protect the Great Lakes and the economies that rely on these waterways.
Mr. Owens would have voted against the bill based on the ballast issue, said his spokesman, Sean Magers.
The congressman has taken a nuanced stand, though, saying that the New York regulations may go too far and that the federal government, not the states, should take responsibility for ballast standards but that the administration hasnt done so. Those discussions also need to involve the Canadian government, he has said.