Under pressure from conservation and fishing groups, the Environmental Protection Agency has agreed in an out-of-court settlement to establish a single, strong system of regulations to control ballast water discharges.
The regulations will toughen federal oversight of ships that dump ballast water in U.S. harbors, a leading way in which invasive species are spread.
The settlement requires EPA to complete scientific reviews of the steps that ships should take to kill or filter living organisms in ballast water. The agency has agreed to publish a draft of a new so-called Vessel General Permit by November and to issue a new permit by late 2012 that would take effect on Jan. 1, 2014.
2008 Permits Challenged
The agreement, filed March 8 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, resolves a 2009 lawsuit that challenged the EPA’s 2008 Vessel General Permit (VGP), officially known as the "Final National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) General Permit for Discharges Incidental to the Normal Operation of a Vessel" (73 Fed. Reg. 79).
The new regulations will require sterilization
equipment. The shipping industry says there will
not be enough time to comply.
Ballast water is typically drawn in from, and discharged directly to, ambient waters. Many factors influence the discharge rate and constituent concentrations, but the water typically teems with fish, bacteria, waste and other organisms. It may also include antifoulant coating traces and related chemicals, experts say.
Ultra large crude carriers (ULCCs) may have a ballast capacity of about 95,000 cubic meters (about 25,096,345 gallons), while bulk carriers on the Great Lakes have smaller tanks but are often designed to load and unload cargo and ballast water quickly.
Many of the foreign species spread rapidly, starve out native competitors, and upset the ecological balance. Invaders such as zebra mussels cause billions of dollars each year in damage and economic losses.
The 2008 EPA permit required shippers to exchange their ballast water at sea or, if the tanks were empty, rinse them with salt water before entering U.S. territory. Environmental groups sued, contending the requirement was inadequate and violated the federal Clean Water Act.
Sterilization to Be Required
Under the settlement, EPA will issue a new industry-wide permit limiting the number of live organisms in ballast water — a step that will require shippers to install sterilization equipment.
Supporters of the regulations say the time table should give ship owners enough time to comply. Shipping interests disagree, saying that the technology is just emerging to conduct on-board ballast treatment and that the cost to retrofit ships could stifle the industry.
The suit was brought by the state of Michigan, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., National Wildlife Federation, Indiana Wildlife Federation, League of Ohio Sportsmen, Minnesota Conservation Federation, Prairie Rivers Network, Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, Alliance for the Great Lakes, Ohio Environmental Council, the Northwest Environmental Advocates, Center for Biological Diversity, and People for Puget Sound.