Court Approves Michigan Water Ballast Law

Published February 1, 2009

The state of Michigan can require ocean-going ships to prove their ballast water is free of invasive species before docking in the state, a federal appellate court has ruled.

The shipping industry had argued the Michigan law was overly burdensome and interfered with constitutionally protected interstate commerce.

The Great Lakes, along with many other domestic bodies of water, have been under assault from a growing number of aggressive plant and animal species ferried from remote parts of the world by ocean-going ships. At the beginning of their voyage, ships often take in ballast water to stabilize the ship. As the ships reach the end of their journey, they discharge their ballast into local waters.

U.S. and Canadian laws require ocean-going ships to discharge their ballast at sea before entering the Great Lakes system. The Michigan law in question imposed an additional requirement that ships sterilize their ballast water and obtain certification of the sterilization process as a precondition to docking in the state.

“Federal laws governing invasive species expressly authorize joint federal and state regulatory measures to prevent and control their prevalence in ‘waters of the United States,’ particularly in the Great Lakes region,” explained attorney Maureen Martin, senior fellow for legal affairs for The Heartland Institute.

“While it may be more logical for the federal government to exclusively regulate invasive species in U.S. waters, Congress chose to share this responsibility with the states, and the Sixth Circuit correctly ruled it was bound by Congressional intent,” said Martin.

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.