Wednesday, March 9, 2011

IJC Releases 15th Biennial Report

Mar 9: The International Joint Commission (IJC) of Canada and United States provided 32 recommendations for action at the federal, state, provincial and local levels of government. In particular, the recommendations in the 15th Biennial Report focus on the need for the U.S. and Canada to approve a revised Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (the Agreement) that addresses threats to water quality to prevent or reduce their impact on human and ecological health. Beach closings, harmful algal growth, contaminated groundwater and alien invasive species are examples of threats that are of greatest concern in the nearshore zone where most people live and get their drinking water and which provide vital habitat for fish and wildlife populations. The next biennial cycle is underway and the public is invited to attend the 2011 Great Lakes Biennial Meeting, to be held October 12-14 at Wayne State University in Detroit.

    Lana Pollack, U.S Co-Chair of the Commission said, "Human health must be highlighted as a priority concern of both countries in a revised Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. Adding explicit provisions to protect human health based on sound science is one of the most important things we can do." The Commission prepared the report as part of its responsibilities to assess progress toward achieving the objectives of the current Agreement. The report addresses priorities that were the focus of scientific research and public engagement over the past two years. First signed in 1972, the Agreement was last revised in 1987, and the two countries announced in June 2009 that they would be engaging in negotiations to update this important bi-national blueprint for Great Lakes restoration. Some of the recommendations focus on:

  • Research and Monitoring - A key concern raised in the report is the resurgence of eutrophication -- aquatic plant growth caused by excessive nutrients such as phosphorus. The report recommends new research and monitoring efforts similar to the Commission's Pollution from Land-use Activities Reference Group (PLUARG) in the 1970s. PLUARG II would help managers better understand eutrophication and select the wisest management actions.
  • Governance - The report notes that while collaboration has improved in recent years, there is a critical need to modify existing governance to strengthen coordination across jurisdictional lines to address ecological challenges in the nearshore. The Commission recommends adopting Lakewide Management Plans (LaMPs) as the geographic unit to coordinate, integrate and implement programs to address the impacts of agricultural and urban areas on water quality.
  • Regulatory Action and Public Infrastructure - The report recommends that governments institute "no regrets" actions (measures that would be justified under all plausible future scenarios) immediately to reduce nonpoint sources of pollution from agricultural and urban sources. In addition, the Commission recommends improved enforcement efforts to prevent contamination of groundwater, establishment of standards and regular inspections for septic systems and more effective regulations of confined animal feeding operations to ensure proper treatment of manure and application of methods to reduce run-off.
    Access a release from IJC (click here). Access the complete 20-page 15th Biennial Report Executive Summary & Recommendations (click here).

More On Ballast Water Discharges Settlement

Mar 8: Yesterday, WIMS reported that a number of environmental organizations and U.S. EPA had announced a settlement which will the groups said would "curtail invasive species that have been wreaking havoc on American waters for decades." [See WIMS 3/8/11]. The agreement requires EPA to issue a new permit regulating ballast water discharges from commercial vessels. As reported, the settlement also requires EPA to encourage states to develop regionally consistent approaches to setting ballast water standards.

    Michigan officials also issued an announcement on signing a settlement agreement EPA to better regulate ballast water from commercial vessels. Michigan and a coalition of other Great Lakes states along with the leading environmental organizations ultimately prevailed in establishing baseline regulations after suing the EPA in Federal district court in California to force the Agency to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to regulate ballast water discharges. EPA's first "Vessel General Permit" (VGP) regulating invasive species transported in ballast water was issued in 2009. 

    According to a release from Michigan, instead of requiring modern ballast water treatment technologies, EPA simply required ships use the inadequate "swish and spit" saltwater flushing process developed over a decade ago. The new permit also failed to ensure all state water quality standards were met throughout the interstate waters of the Great Lakes. Under the Federal regulations, states with more protective standards still faced the risk of pollution from ballast water dumped under less stringent guidelines from neighboring states. An effective minimum "floor" standard to unify the various Great Lakes states' water quality standards was still required for the permit to fully protect the region's waterways.

    Governor Snyder said, "The Great Lakes define the State of Michigan. But our waters are now home to more than 180 aquatic invaders, introduced and spread by unregulated ballast water. I urge the EPA to move swiftly on plans to offer a long-term protection strategy for the Great Lakes."  Michigan officials said the settlement agreement outlines a process for the EPA to establish common protective standards for ballast water discharges to United States waters. They outlined key elements of the settlement agreement as: Arranging for scientific reports, speeding up the time line for issuance of the next Vessel General Permit; Facilitating regional communication for ballast water regulation; and, Providing information on the development of the next VGP requirements.
    Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said the State will continue to pressure Federal regulators for basin-wide, common standards. Schuette said, "It's time to bring the fight against invasive species into the 21st century. This agreement moves the EPA forward to more effective methods that will protect our Great Lakes and the jobs that depend upon them." EPA has enlisted experts from the National Academy of Sciences to help develop its next VGP. The experts will craft a risk analysis on release of organisms from ballast water.

    Also, EPA's Science Advisory Board will report on the performance and availability of ballast water treatment technology. Both reports are expected to be completed by May 31, 2011. EPA's current VGP expires December 19, 2013, but through the settlement agreement, EPA committed to drafting the next VGP by November 30, 2011, and a new final VGP by November 30, 2012. 
    The agreement also requires EPA to provide information and facilitate communication with Michigan and the other Great Lakes states after the issuance of the next draft VGP. Patricia Birkholz, Director of Michigan's Office of the Great Lakes, said she looks forward to working with other Great Lakes states and Federal partners to craft strong and effective common standards. She said, "This issue impacts everyone who has a stake in the health of our waters. The list of new invasive species grows yearly, and we need to halt the introduction and spread of these foreign invaders. At the end of the day, we want strong ballast water standards and consistent protection for all the Great Lakes."
    Access a release from the Michigan Attorney General (click here). Access the settlement agreement (click here). Access a blog posting from the Lewis and Clark law school (click here).

Enviros Claim Victory In Ballast Water Discharge Settlement

Mar 8: A number of environmental organizations and U.S. EPA announced a settlement which will the groups said will "curtail invasive species that have been wreaking havoc on American waters for decades." The agreement requires EPA to issue a new permit regulating ballast water discharges from commercial vessels. In a release the groups indicated that ballast water is the number one source for a rogue's gallery of aquatic nuisances such as the so-called "fish Ebola," the spiny water flea, and zebra and quagga mussels. These and other invasive species now "sap the American economy of billions of dollars annually." The groups said that after a long battle over how living pollution should be dealt with under the Clean Water Act, the settlement requires EPA to complete scientific reviews of the steps that ships should take to protect human health and the economy of communities on American coasts and in the Great Lakes.
    The following groups were party to the settlement: National Wildlife Federation (NWF), Indiana Wildlife Federation, League of Ohio Sportsmen, Minnesota Conservation Federation, Prairie Rivers Network, Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, Alliance for the Great Lakes, Ohio Environmental Council, Northwest Environmental Advocates, Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and People for Puget Sound. The Environmental Law Clinic at Stanford Law School and Pacific Environmental Advocacy Center (PEAC) at Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, OR, represented three of the organizations. 
    Thom Cmar, attorney for NRDC said, "Until this point, EPA's permit has left an open door to new invasions from ballast water dumping. This settlement should prompt EPA to treat 'living pollution' as aggressively as it would an oil spill or toxic release. With aquatic invasions occurring all over the country, from the Chesapeake Bay to the Great Lakes to San Francisco Bay, this action is long overdue."
    The settlement resolves court challenges brought in 2009 by the conservation groups, who contended that EPA's current Vessel General Permit does not adequately protect U.S. waters from invasive species. Before the Vessel General Permit was issued in 2008, EPA had allowed ships to dump ballast water and other pollution without Clean Water Act permits. Conservation groups first petitioned EPA in 1999 to begin regulating ship discharges under the Clean Water Act, eventually prevailing in Federal court in California in 2005, a legal victory which they said "helped set the stage for today's settlement."
    Nina Bell, Executive Director of Northwest Environmental Advocates said, "This settlement represents the first time in 35 years that EPA has agreed to control discharges of ballast water from ships in the same way that other industries are controlled when they discharge pollution to the nation's waters. The EPA permit we challenged in this lawsuit did nothing more than allow shippers to continue business as usual -- passing on the economic and environmental costs of invasive species to taxpayers." By requiring numeric limits on discharges of living pollution, the new permit should help to stem the rapid and broad movement of invasive species throughout American waters by forcing ships to adopt technologies to treat their ballast water. EPA has also agreed to require additional monitoring and reporting of vessels' ballast water discharges in the new permit.
    Under the settlement, EPA has agreed to publish a draft of a new Vessel General Permit by November 2011, and to issue a new permit by November 2012, that would not go into effect until the current permit expires in December 2013. By allowing over two years from the time the permit is proposed to the time the new standards would go into effect, ship owners will have more  time to comply with treatment requirements than they would otherwise receive. The settlement also requires EPA to encourage states to develop regionally consistent approaches to setting ballast water standards.
    Access a release from the organizations (click here). Access the settlement agreement (click here). Access a release from the Michigan Attorney General (click here). Access a blog posting from the Lewis and Clark law school (click here).