February 8, 2023

Democrats just stopped a heinous Republican plot dead in its tracks

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Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) may be the big fish in the U.S. Senate these days but a bill he pushed hard for that would roll back another environmental regulation has been deep-sixed.


Democrats have defeated a Senate bill backed by the Majority Leader and most Republicans that would have weakened the Clean Water Act and allowed ships to dump ballast water at will, a practice which opponents blame for introducing invasive fish species that cause havoc to marine environments. 

The Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA), which is overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency,  would have not only allow ships to dump the dirty water but also ban states from regulating the practice.

Ships typically take in water at one port to provide stability when traveling and then discharge that water at another port, which can bring pollutants and foreign species from one place to another.

The ballast water has been blamed for the introduction of species like the zebra mussels into the Great Lakes as well as various kinds of algae.

Beginning in the late 1980s the zebra muscles, native to Eastern Europe, were blamed for destroying many native species and clogging the Great Lakes, including water and power input vents, so the damage was enormous.

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While the bill got 56 yes votes and 42 no votes, that fell short of the 60 votes needed for passage.

A coalition of environmental groups including American Rivers and the National Resources Defense Council warned the Senators that VIDA would move away from “responsible management” of water discharges from commercial vessels including nutrient-laden greywater and various chemicals.

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Ten Democratic state Attorneys General, led by Eric Schneiderman of New York,  also were against it because, as they wrote to the Senators, it would “preempt traditional state authority to take the actions necessary for protecting state water resources.”

McConnell and the shipping industry said that the Coast Guard has rules regulating the discharge of water and anything else is just duplication.

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Seven Democrats did vote with the Republicans for the bill, including Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Bill Nelson of Florida (who was a co-sponsor with Republican Sen. Marco Rubio), but most are up for re-election this fall in states where Trump won so that is believed to be their motivation.

Since Trump took office there has been an all-out effort to roll back many EPA regulations that are designed to protect not just water, but also the air and the environment.

Thankfully, the Democrats have stopped this effort to give industry free reign which would seem like a no-brainer after the government has spent billions cleaning up the mess caused by the practice of dumping dirty water in the past.

With industry lobbyists spending big to influence these kinds of votes, and irresponsible bureaucrats like the EPA’s Scott Pruitt against most regulation, these battles will have to be fought again and again as long as Republicans control Congress. 

For once, score one for the little fish.

Benjamin Locke

Benjamin Locke is a retired college professor with an undergraduate degree in Industrial Labor and Relations from Cornell University and an MBA from the European School of Management.

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