On the one hand, a 700-foot freighter, taking in and discharging ballast water that may or may not be contaminated with oily sludge and rust from the ship's ballast tanks (or, if it's an ocean-going ship, invasive life from some far-off ecosystem) while its crew hoses stray bits of coal from the deck into the lake.
On the other hand, your 21-foot runabout, with rainwater running off its deck and maybe an accidental spill of fuel as you finish topping off at the gas dock.
After Sept. 30, according to the federal regulations about to be put in place in the wake of a 1999 lawsuit, they'll be the same thing.
Silly, of course.
And, if one wants to adhere rigidly to the letter of the law, expensive. Your runabout is subject to the same pricey federal permit laws covering "incidental discharges" into the waterways as is the freighter.
According to the National Marine Manufacturers Association, a lobby group for the recreational boating industry, the fines of up to $32,500 per incident per day will apply equally to the freighter and the family fun boat once the new permit regulations go into effect Sept. 30.
As is the case with most blanket regulations, someone didn't think this all the way through.
Given the importance of tourism, including recreational boating, to this area, we can't help but support something called the Clean Boating Act, which has been making its way around Capitol Hill for the last year or so. It exempts recreational and charter boats from the permitting process.
The Clean Boating Act -- Senate Bill 2766, sponsored by Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Bill Nelson, D-Fla. -- is an attempt to add some common sense to an overbroad remedy but still address environmental concerns. For example, deliberate dumping -- or dumping of oil, fuel, plastics, garbage or raw sewage -- would still be illegal, no matter how big or small your boat.
According to the NMMA, Ohio's senators, Democrat Sherrod Brown and Republican George Voinovich, are both cosponsors of S.2766. We'd expect, coming as they both do from Lake Erie communities -- Brown from Lorain and Voinovich from Cleveland.
The bill is out of committee and is ready for a vote, but lawmakers will soon turn their attention to getting re-elected and there'll be no time for legislation. We urge Brown and Voinovich to keep up their support for the Clean Boating Act and get this thing to a vote -- a successful one.