A U.S. District Court in Michigan recently upheld a state law regulating ballast water discharges from oceangoing ships, dismissing a lawsuit by an industry group that claimed the law was unconstitutional and preempted by federal legislation (Fednav Ltd. v. Chester, --- F. Supp.2d ---, 2007 WL 2336072 (E.D. Mich., Aug. 15, 2007). The Michigan Ballast Water Statute, which went into effect Jan. 1, 2007, requires all oceangoing vessels that dock in Michigan ports to have permits from the state environmental agency. The permits are issued only to companies stating that their ships will not discharge ballast water or that they will use approved technologies designed to prevent the release of invasive aquatic species.

Dismissing the complaint, the court ruled that (i) the law did not violate the due process clause of the U.S. Constitution; (ii) plaintiff failed to make a case that the Supremacy Clause preempted the state law; and (iii) the law does not violate the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution because it does not discriminate against out-of-state shippers, nor does it impose an undue burden on interstate commerce. The court also held that the state law was a reasonable approach to the serious environmental threat posed by invasive aquatic species.

The decision could encourage other states, especially in the Great Lakes region, to impose similar restrictions. Pending legislation introduced in Ohio would require all oceangoing vessels to obtain a ballast water permit as a condition of operating in portions of Lake Erie under state jurisdiction. Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are also considering similar ballast water permitting regimes.