More Good News! VIDA Blocked; Invasive Species Kept Away From Great Lakes

Pictured: Joe Manchin

It’s water Thursday, and hopefully we’ll get to the roundup after work tonight, but wanted to bring you a rare bit of good news: the Vessel Incident Discharge Act, which would have removed needed protections against invasive species in the Great Lakes, was actually defeated in the Senate yesterday!

We talked about this last year, and were officially Not Optimistic, saying it was part of the GOP’s mad desire for “letting industry control their own regulatory regimes.” That’s a big part of this, and something we need to keep fighting against.

It’s also an interesting story, because it is part of the larger geological and hydrological history of opening up the Great Lakes to the world. The Niagara Falls was an enormous barrier to any creatures trying to make their way to the Lakes, if they could even get past the punishing downstream currents of the St. Lawerence.

But the building of canals and the invention of steamboats changed all of that, in ways that transformed not just the economy of our country, but the basics of geology. Global trade, in which huge vessels picked up ballast water from the Bosporus, teeming with life perfectly suited for that environment, brought that life here, where it wasn’t suited (and obviously vice-versa, this isn’t an assault against America or anything).

Trade is good. Connecting the world is good. They’ve brought enormous benefits. But there are huge risks and downsides, which we need to work against so that everyone benefits. That “everyone” should also include ecosystems, which are where we, you know, live. That’s why regulations about ballast water were important, and why trying to remove them was insane.

I don’t have to tell you that nearly every Republican voted for VIDA, right? But they also had some Democratic help.

Democratic Sens. Bob Casey (Pa.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp(N.D.), Doug Jones (Ala.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Bill Nelson (Fla.) voted with Republicans to advance the bill. Everyone, besides Jones, is up for reelection in a state won by Trump in 2016.

Casey and Donnelly are Great Lakes senators, which is particularly maddening. But think about what that says: it says that red (or reddish) state senators feel that any environmental legislation is so toxic, even one as obvious and benign as this, that they are siding against it for cheap political points. Even though I doubt that there are many people in landlocked West Virginia too damn concerned with inconvenience to oceanic freight, Manchin sided against clean water.

That’s nuts. One of the consequences of opening up the Lakes to the world is that every river system that is connected to them can can be infested with invasives. And since Chicago reversed the river, that means the Mississippi watershed, which includes the Ohio and all its tributaries, which includes the Kanawha and the Monagahela, which are in West Virginia. And I think the Missouri runs through North Dakota and, well, Missouri.

The point is, that thanks to geology and our economic choices, we’re all connected. It’s our politics that suffers a vast disconnect, where even pointing out that we should make it slightly harder for oxygen-killing mussels to infect every waterway, the source of our country’s strength, is some kind of commie tree-hugging bullshit.

But that can change. We can get better. Rejecting VIDA is a hopeful sign that sometimes the good guys can win. It’s not un-American to protect America. As we learn more, and as voices speak up, we’ll expand that idea of America to our land, our water, and ultimately, the people who live here.

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Vessel Incidental Discharge Act: Even The Boring Stuff Is Made Terrible by Republicans

I admit this image is dull. But look below! MONSTERS!

Odds are you rarely think of ballast water tanks from ocean-going ships in the St. Lawrence Seaway. God knows I rarely do, and I spend 18% of my waking hours thinking about the Great Lakes. But the water from the ballast, which is scooped up in the ocean or the weird and frigid depths of the Black Sea, contains critters. And when it is dumped to balance out the lightened load from taking off the cargo, those animals escape.

And they kill the whole damn Great Lake system.

See, for thousands of years, the Lakes lived in virtual isolation. Niagara Falls served as a natural barrier from the ocean, which meant any species that somehow made it up the St. Lawrence river, with it’s punishing ocean-going rapids, would hit a wall. That changed with the canal system, and then was blown away when the Seaway opened up and the canals were dredged for oceanic freighters.

 

Image result for great lakes sea lamprey

Lamprey! Ahhh!

 

Lampreys, gobies, zebra mussels, quagga mussels: all of these have come from ballast, the terrible price of opening up the Great Lakes to the world. There have been heroic attempts to save the Great Lakes from invasive species, and they have largely worked. It’s still uphill, but there has been legislation that regulates ballast to try to keep other unknowns out.

So, of course

The Commercial Vessel Act would eliminate existing legal protections against aquatic invasive species discharged in the ballast water of big ships, according to the letter. In particular, the legislation seeks to preempt traditional state authority to take the actions necessary for protecting state water resources, while doing away with existing federal laws that safeguard the nation’s waters against harmful pollutant discharges from vessels, the letter said.

The attorneys general also blasted the legislation as an attempt to jettison the Clean Water Act, the federal law that requires the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to scientifically develop and regularly improve uniform minimum pollution treatment standards, and then incorporate them as discharge requirements in permits that are renewed every five years.

“The Commercial Vessel Act takes the radical step of eliminating these vital Clean Water Act protections and relegates EPA — the federal agency with the greatest knowledge and experience in addressing water pollution — to an advisory role,” they said in the letter. “The Commercial Vessel Act vests primary responsibility for controlling vessel pollution with the U.S. Coast Guard, an agency mainly focused on homeland security that has little water pollution expertise.”

Between this and the attempted dismantling of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which would hurt Trump’s beloved working white class the most, it is like they want to destroy the Lakes. All in the fetishistic lust for letting industry control their own regulatory regimes. It’s madness.

There’s nothing in this world that the GOP doesn’t want to make worse.

(Fun fact! If you were to drain Lake Michigan, you could walk from top to bottom without ever touching the ground. It’s all covered with mussel shells from invasive species over the last half century. Pro tip, though: don’t! You’d cut your feet to ribbons. You’re welcome.)