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Coast Guard, Smithsonian fail to provide ballast records to MEC

FOIA request drags on for months
Records of ballast water uptakes and discharges by international vessels in the Great Lakes are received and processed by the United States Coast Guard and the Smithsonian Institution.

Such records, which shippers have been required to report since 2004, might shed light on the frequency and amount of ballast water discharges—the primary source of invasive organisms which have thrown the lakes’ ecosystem into disarray (think, zebra mussels, round gobies and spiny waterfleas).

The data is especially timely. Michigan’s precedent-setting ballast water regulations—enacted after decades of federal thumb-twiddling on the invasives crisis—are being challenged in court by the shipping industry.

But, months after a formal request for the records, the Coast Guard and Smithsonian continue to withhold the information and almost certainly are in violation of federal law that requires timely release of public information.

A federal Freedom of Information Act Request for the records was made by the Michigan Environmental Council to the Coast Guard on March 20. By law, the agency had 10 business days in which to respond.

On May 4, three weeks after the deadline, the Coast Guard passed the buck to the Smithsonian, claiming the records were in their possession. A Smithsonian official promised to provide the records promptly.

After months of phone messages, the records seem no closer to public release than ever.

It is the Michigan Environmental Council’s position that the ballast water records are public information and that the Coast Guard and/or Smithsonian are in continuing violation of federal law for failing to provide them.

We’ll continue pressing for their release. And when the agencies finally comply with the law, we’ll let you know what they show.
-Hugh McDiarmid, Jr., Michigan Environmental Council
RELATED TOPICS: water protection
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