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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Someone please put a lamprey on some congressmen

Rat was enjoying an August afternoon on the southern shore of Lake Michigan, near the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, with my rat-letts (offspring), who commented on how clear the water was, despite the fact the beach we were lounging on was right next door to heavily-industrialized Gary/Hammond/Chicago.

I hated to inform the young rats that in this particular instance, such clear water was probably a bad thing. Lake Michigan is being scrubbed sterile by trillions of quagga mussels, an invasive critter that devours the tiny plankton that the rest of this Great Lake's food system depends on. Elsewhere on the Lake Michigan shore, the clarity caused by the quaggas only encourages another scourge -- cladophora, a stringy variety of algae that creates a great green stinky mass when it washes up on shore.

But leave it to Congress to not only ignore how these invasives are destroying the Great Lakes, but try to pass a law that Rat officially dubs the Free Passport for Invasive Creatures Act. The proposed law would exempt ballast water (that's the water ships take in and dump out of their hulls to balance their loads) from pollution regulation, and makes it illegal for states to have tougher standards than federal ones.

This is a really bad idea. In its sponsors' defense of costs to the shipping industry, it totally ignores the billions of dollars of repair and maintenance costs and lost recreational revenues from the invasives that are fundamentally altering the Great Lakes.

For a fine, and very sobering, assessment of the weird paradox of how mussels are making the lakes both nutrient-rich and starving them of nutrients, and therefore messing with the entire system, see this new report from the National Wildlife Federation.

The whole thing makes Rat want to loose sea lampreys upon those members of Congress supporting this bill. Also an invader to the Great Lakes via the Atlantic Ocean, lampreys attach themselves (that's the mouth of one in the picture up there) to their victims and eventually suck them dead. Lampreys know only cold-blooded animals, so as far as members of Congress go, that definitely works.

(This bill was passed out of House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee last week on a voice vote, so it's hard to know how the two Wisconsin members serving on that committee -- Rep. Reid Ribble and Rep. Tom Petri -- voted on the measure. When Rat's moles find out, we'll let you know.)

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