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Harper’s opposition to ballast law a threat to the St. Lawrence

Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow will be speaking in Clayton, New York this weekend at the 25th Annual Winter Environmental Conference. As noted on their website, “Each year the conference provides attendees the opportunity to hear from and engage with knowledgeable and recognized speakers about topics of significance to the health of the St. Lawrence River.” Barlow will be speaking about the St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes and will also be available to sign copies of her new book Blue Future.

The other keynote speaker will be Betty Sutton, who is the Administrator of the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation. The conference website notes, “She has spoken frequently about the need to balance the economic interests of the shippers, industries and ports who use the Seaway with the environmental impact of those uses on the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes.” The Waterton Daily Times adds she’ll be discussing the treatment of ballast charges.

In 2010, the Journal-Sentinel explained, “Ships take in ballast to steady less-than-full vessels on the high seas, and then that water – and whatever life is lurking in it – can get discharged as cargo is loaded at port. By 2006, a new species was being discovered in the lakes, on average, every 28 weeks, according to McGill University professor Anthony Ricciardi. Since then, the U.S. and Canada have begun requiring all overseas ships bound for the Great Lakes to flush their ballast tanks with mid-ocean saltwater in an attempt to kill or expel unwanted species. …(But) total sterilization is considered a technological impossibility at this point…”

As a result of this, the Toronto Star has reported, “A group of more than 90 U.S. environmental organizations want ocean-going tankers banned from entering the Great Lakes.” And the Globe and Mail has noted, “The seaway has wreaked so much havoc on the world’s greatest supply of fresh water that some critics now propose that it be abandoned as a route for saltwater ships…”

In 2011, New York state considered legislation that would require all seagoing vessels in the U.S. portion of the St. Lawrence Seaway to sterilize the ballast water by 100 times the international norms.

Barlow welcomed that news and stated, “Canada has taken a weak position on fighting invasive species, putting commercial interests above the safety and integrity of the Great Lakes. …The Great Lakes are in serious trouble from over-extraction, toxic dumping, energy exploration, wetland loss, climate change and invasive species. New York State should be congratulated for setting the gold standard in ballast flushing rules.”

But the Harper government took another view. When initial legislation on this moved forward in New York state, Global News reported, “‘Canada is concerned…that enforcement on transiting vessels would stop commercial shipping on the seaway,’ a spokesperson for Transport Minister Denis Lebel said. ‘Canada has communicated its concerns to New York, asking the state to adopt compatible requirements, especially for transiting.'”

By February 2012, after New York state had decided not to proceed with the ballast rules, Parliamentary secretary for transport Pierre Poilievre said, “Canada applauds New York state for withdrawing its unattainable ballast water requirements and agrees that uniform standards are the best way to protect the marine environment. We welcome this action as enforcement of the rules on transiting ships would have stopped commercial shipping on the seaway.”

Further reading
New York State backs down on stringent rules for ballast in the Great Lakes
Barlow highlights damage by ballast to the Great Lakes
Council of Canadians supports New York state rules on ballast
Invasive species in the Great Lakes more catastrophic than the Gulf oil spill