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Words vs. Actions: Is the Seaway Green or Greenwashing?

March 22nd, 2011 | Posted by Jennifer

Below is a commentary, written by Save The River’s Executive Director, reflecting on the opening of the 52nd Seaway season.

March 22, 2011

Today marks the beginning of another season of shipping on the St. Lawrence Seaway. We’re relieved that there is little ice on the main channel, removing the need for icebreaking to open the River for ship passage. Unfortunately, the navigation buoys sit on the River’s shore and many of the boat launches, which are critical staging areas in the event of a shipping accident or spill, remain closed with plenty of ice.

This year’s Seaway opening coincides with World Water Day, which serves as an annual global celebration of water and a day of action focused protecting our precious water resources. Ironically at the same time, the Seaway agencies and shipping industry are promoting a new ‘green’ public image. The U.S. Seaway agency’s annual report just arrived in our office last week and in it, the Seaway calls itself one of the most “environmentally responsible marine transportation systems in the world.” That’s a pretty big statement and we feel it deserves some scrutiny.

The Seaway agencies and shipping industry have systematically put themselves on the wrong side of environmental policy debates. For nearly 20 years, since the introduction of the zebra mussel, they resisted any rules to clean up ship ballast tanks to prevent further invasive species introductions. Three years ago, the Seaway finally established its own rules but they are the minimum protections available. And today, as state governments and citizens call for better protections against invasive species introductions, representatives from the shipping industry and the Seaway are walking the halls of Washington, Ottawa, Albany, and the courts arguing vigorously against stronger ballast clean up rules.

And, it doesn’t end with ballast. Shippers and the Seaway are on record opposing the environmentally beneficial water levels plan (Plan B+) that our communities have been supporting for years. They’ve fought for (and unfortunately won) exemptions from federal rules to clean up ship smokestack emissions, making some of the Great Lakes ships among the dirtiest air polluters in the industry. And, the Seaway has unilaterally extended the shipping season on the St. Lawrence River, with no input from River communities, state or federal environmental and safety agencies, or elected officials. These are not the actions of an “environmentally responsible” agency.

If the Seaway wants to be “environmentally responsible” and be seen as a good neighbor by those of us who rely on the River for our livelihood and our way of life, they must begin a good faith effort to work proactively to protect the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes. For a few ideas, we suggest they start with the recommendations outlined by more than 50 environmental and conservation groups in the report “A Better Seaway”, which lays out a specific action plan to reach a truly sustainable and responsible marine transportation system. (Visit www.abetterseaway.org to learn more.)

Promoting a greener image is one thing, but without actions to back it up we have nothing but words from the Seaway, and no one to protect our River but ourselves.

- Jennifer J. Caddick, Save The River Executive Director & Upper St. Lawrence Riverkeeper

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