MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Minnesota and six other Great Lakes states want oceangoing ships to stop dumping invasive mussels, fish and other organisms into U.S. waters, saying species from foreign ports disrupt the ecology and cause billions of dollars in damage.
The states' attorneys general petitioned the U.S. Coast Guard to close a loophole that allows most ships from abroad to enter the Great Lakes without doing anything to remove foreign species from their ballast tanks.
They also filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of a lawsuit by conservation and environmental groups. That suit seeks to force the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate ships' ballast water discharges in U.S. waters.
The EPA released a letter sent earlier this year to Indiana's attorney general, saying that it has been working with the Coast Guard to solve the problem. The Coast Guard said it will respond after it reviews the legal papers.
Last month, the Star Tribune reported that invaders are dominating native creatures and sometimes destroying those that prey on them, including tens of thousands of migrating loons and other waterfowl.
The newspaper's analysis found that 40 percent of the 179 foreign species discovered in the Great Lakes entered since 1959, and that most of the newcomers probably arrived in the ballast tanks of ships.
The tanks are filled with water, often from foreign ports, to keep ships stable when they carry no cargo.
"Ballast water ought to be considered a significant pollutant," said New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, whose office is leading the legal actions. "The exotic species of fish, mussels and plants contained in these discharges multiply at fantastic rates and overwhelm our ecosystem," he said in a statement.
Current regulations exempt most vessels that enter the Great Lakes because they have empty tanks. Yet these ships can transport potential invaders.
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