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Great Lakes To Reap Benefits From Coast Guard Authorization Act

Protection of the environment and promotion of waterborne commerce will be well served by Senate passage of the Coast Guard Authorization Act. The bill, S.1129, includes provisions that will protect the Great Lakes from oil spills and non-native species and facilitate shipping of products such as cement and aggregate during the ice season.

“This bill is a real win-win for the Lakes,” said James H.I. Weakley, president of the Lake Carriers’ Association, the trade association representing U.S.-flag vessel operators on the Great Lakes. “It is equally concerned with safeguarding our environment and fostering waterborne commerce, the most efficient mode of transportation for dry-bulk cargos.”

S.1129 authorizes a new U.S. Coast Guard Center of Expertise for Great Lakes oil spill preparedness and response. Although no crude oil moves on the Great Lakes, light heating oils, gasoline, asphalt and various chemicals are transported and the Center will enhance protection of what is the source of drinking water for more than 30 million North Americans.

The bill incorporates the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA) that will replace the current patchwork quilt of separate, even conflicting regulations on commercial vessel ballast water discharges by the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Great Lakes States with a uniform set of regulations which draws on the regulatory, technical and scientific expertise of each.

Weakley stressed the VIDA provisions heighten regulation of ballast water discharges. “Vessels will now be governed by stricter and more uniform regulations and the bill retains the requirement that oceangoing vessels exchange their ballast before entering the Lakes even after they install ballast water treatment systems.”

U.S.-flag lakers will benefit from the provision authorizing construction of a new Great Lakes icebreaker of the same caliber as the MACKINAW, currently the only U.S. Coast Guard heavy icebreaker stationed on the Lakes. While the MACKINAW is fairly new, it was launched in 2006, the other U.S. Coast Guard vessels charged with icebreaking date back as far as 1979. Even though several of those vessels recently have undergone service life extension, a number suffered significant casualties this past winter. As a result, cargos totaling 1.8 million tons were either delayed or outright cancelled in December and January.

“The U.S.-flag Great Lakes fleet cannot reliably meet the needs of commerce with only one U.S. Coast Guard heavy icebreaker on the Lakes. I urge the Senate to pass S.1129 as soon as it is brought to a vote.”

Weakley noted that facilitating waterborne commerce in and of itself is a boon to the environment. “Vessels are the greenest mode of transportation,” he said. “They use less fuel and produce few emissions in the movement of cargo than do trains and trucks.”