Shared from the 4/22/2018 Sandusky Register eEdition

Senate blocks bill dealing with invasive species

Picture

Creative Commons photo/GerardM

Zebra mussels, an example of invasive species that have invaded Lake Erie.

SANDUSKY

The U.S. Senate has blocked a bill, opposed by environmentalists, that allegedly would have weakened protections against invasive species getting into Lake Erie.

Ohio’s two U.S. senators split their vote, with U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, siding with environmental groups such as the National Wildlife Federation and U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, voting against them. Portman said later he is concerned about the issue and working to improve the bill.

Wednesday’s vote was whether to end debate on a measure to reauthorize funding for the Coast Guard.

The measure included an amendment, opposed by the National Wildlife Federation, the Alliance for the Great Lakes, the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, and other environmental groups that would have removed Clean Water Act protections for ballast water discharges from ocean-going ships that threaten to introduce invasive species in Lake Erie. The groups said the bill would have substituted weaker rules.

The Senate voted 56-42, with two senators not voting, to move the bill along with the controversial amendment, with Portman voting yes and Brown voting no.

The measure needed 60 votes to pass without further debate, however, so environmentalists counted the vote as a victory. Brown said Tuesday’s vote means the controversial invasive species provision will have to be removed to allow the bill to move forward.

“This is a huge victory for the millions of people, communities, and businesses who want to put an end to the environmental and economic harm wrought by aquatic invasive species. We thank the members of the U.S. Senate who stood up for our clean water, fish and wildlife, outdoor recreation, and economy,” the environmental groups said in a joint statement.

Brown told reporters earlier Tuesday he would vote to keep the bill from moving forward.

“This provision would make it easier for invasive species to enter our lakes, harm our drinking water and threaten local jobs that depend on boating and fishing in Lake Erie. It does not belong on the Coast Guard bill and it should be taken out, so Congress can move forward with passing this important bill without threatening Lake Erie and the jobs that depend on it,” Brown said.

The Register asked Portman Tuesday about the bill.

Portman said he has tried to take the lead on dealing with invasive species, but said the bill has good provisions, too. He promised only to “take a look at it.”

On Wednesday night, Portman issued a statement explaining that he is still trying to improve the bill.

“I voted to move forward with debate on the bill. I continue to have concerns about the underlying bill and am working with Senator Stabenow to come up with a regional standard for the Great Lakes that is both good for the shipping industry in Ohio and the health of Lake Erie,” Portman said.

Reach reporter Tom Jackson at jackson@sanduskyregister.com and follow him on Twitter @jacksontom.

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