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U.S. Appeals Court Opinion
More on Invasive Species
Federal Court Upholds Michigan Ballast Law
CINCINNATI, Ohio – A federal appeals court has resoundingly supported efforts to control the entry of invasive pest species into the Great Lakes.
The Nov. 21 decision upholds a 2005 Michigan law the Alliance helped write and pass requiring oceangoing ships to obtain permits for the discharge of ballast water.
Oceangoing ships, called “salties,” often fill their ballast tanks with water from overseas to steady their voyage across the ocean. Once in the Great Lakes, they can discharge this ballast water as well as any foreign species that were picked up along with it.
The consequence: invader organisms that have no natural predators or controls are entering the Great Lakes and unraveling the region's fragile food web. By some estimates invasive pest species cause more than $200 million in damage to the Great Lakes annually.
“This is a great ruling for the Great Lakes,” said Christopher Tracy, the Alliance board’s former vice chairman for policy and an attorney in Kalamazoo with the law firm Howard & Howard, which represented the Alliance.
The opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit rejected a volley of challenges to the Michigan statute, including arguments that federal law pre-empted states from acting.
In its 16-page decision, the court wrote that "Michigan has a legitimate state interest in protecting its waters from further introductions of aquatic nuisance species from ballast-water discharges by oceangoing vessels. The permit requirement is rationally related to advancing that interest."
Michigan is the first of the eight Great Lakes states to pass a law governing ballast water discharge from oceangoing vessels in the absence of comprehensive legislation at the federal level.
Joel Brammeier, Alliance vice president for policy, praised the court's ruling, saying “We’re pleased with this confirmation of the states’ authority to protect the Great Lakes from invaders.
"While the federal government spent 2008 sitting on its hands, this decision reinforces the only real line of defense we have right now -- state action to shield the Great Lakes from these biological threats,” he said.
The Alliance partnered with the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, National Wildlife Federation, and the Natural Resources Defense Council as intervenors on the state's side of the case.
State lawmakers Patricia Birkholz (R-Mich.), Ann Rest (DFL-Minn.), Karen May (D-Ill.), Robert Cowles (R-Wis.) and Jon Richards (D-Wis.) also worked to support Michigan’s efforts.