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Washington — President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed legislation setting a framework for ballast water regulations and creating a research center in the Great Lakes to study the impact of oil spills in fresh water.

Trump approved Coast Guard legislation passed by Congress last month that preserves the Environmental Protection Agency's authority under the Clean Water Act to set treatment standards for ballast water and other incidental discharges from ships. Such discharges can transfer harmful invasive species to the freshwater Great Lakes. 

The language authorizes $50 million a year for a new program under the EPA for monitoring and responding to outbreaks of invasive species in the Great Lakes and to help develop ballast-control technologies for vessels in the lakes.

The bill also included a provision authored by Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, authorizing a U.S. Coast Guard National Center of Expertise for the Great Lakes, tasked with advancing research, development and testing of freshwater oil spill response equipment. 

Last year, the then-commandant of the Coast Guard told Peters at a hearing that the agency was not prepared for an oil spill in the Great Lakes, as existing technologies for responding to oil spills are designed for salt-water environments.

Peters’ language directs the center to be located at an institution that has aquatic research facilities and expertise in Great Lakes ecology. It also must be near "critical" crude oil pipeline infrastructure "on and connecting the Great Lakes" such as submerged pipelines.

With those specifications, several Michigan institutions could qualify to host the center, considering the Line 5 pipelines running under the Straits of Mackinac.

The Coast Guard would ultimately decide where to locate the center in the next year.  

Its mandate would include training first responders on the incident command structure system and response technologies and strategies, according to Peters' office. 

“An oil spill in the Great Lakes would be detrimental to our economy, our environment and our drinking water, and I was alarmed to hear that current technology is insufficient to clean up an oil spill in one of our most precious natural resources,” said Peters, who sits on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

“The new Coast Guard Great Lakes Center of Expertise will build upon the good work already happening in Michigan to further advance research, development and testing of freshwater oil spill response equipment and protect the Great Lakes for generations to come."

mburke@detroitnews.com

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