Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Dangerous ballast

A budget bill passed by the U.S. House last week includes a poison pill that ought to dismay anyone who cares about the Great Lakes.

The provision weakens federal standards for making sure ballast water from ships is free of invasive species. That is appallingly shortsighted, because contaminated ballast water from oceangoing vessels enabled zebra mussels, round gobies, and more than 150 other invasive species to enter the Great Lakes in recent decades. The bill also would allow a "historic" car ferry, the SS Badger, to keep dumping coal ash in Lake Michigan.

The future of the Great Lakes region depends on the lakes remaining as healthy and unpolluted as possible. They contain 90 percent of the hemisphere's fresh water. They bring the states that surround them billions of dollars in revenue every year from recreational and commercial fishing.

The ill-considered House bill follows an equally ridiculous measure just enacted by the Michigan Legislature. It forbids any state agency from maintaining regulatory standards higher than those mandated by the federal government, except in temporary emergencies.

The measure leaves Michigan unable to protect itself from acts of federal folly, especially those that threaten the environment. It was passed by Republican lawmakers who, in their anti-regulatory zeal, forgot that their party is supposed to stand for federalism, and against giving state powers to Washington.

Three things need to happen. The U.S. Senate needs to strip the environmentally irresponsible provisions out of the House budget bill. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder should make his first veto and deep-six the bill that would limit state regulatory powers.

And finally, federal and state lawmakers need to be a lot less short-sighted, especially about decisions that could threaten the future of our region, and possibly the planet.

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