Thursday, December 1, 2011

Experts & National Attorneys General Discuss Invasive Species

Nov 30: Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette moderated an invasive species panel discussion before the Winter Meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG), held in San Antonio, TX. The panel is an extension of Schuette's efforts to build a national coalition "to demand tough action by Congress" to combat the spread of invasive species through the Chicago Waterway System, including the voracious Asian carp. Schuette said, "Invasive species like Asian carp and zebra mussels cause massive economic and ecological destruction to states across the nation. It's time for Congress to take action and close the wide-open doorway at Chicago."

    According to a release from Schuette, the three nationally renowned invasive species experts serving on the panel at Schuette's request included: Lindsey Chadderton, Great Lakes Aquatic Invasive Species Director for the Nature Conservancy; Andy Buchsbaum, Great Lakes Regional Executive Director for the National Wildlife Federation; and Lori Williams, Executive Director, for the National Invasive Species Council. A copy of the presentation offered by the panel is available on the Attorney General's website (see link below). 

    On September 26, 2011, Schuette announced a national coalition of seventeen attorneys general signed a letter to the leaders of three Congressional committees calling for them to move federal legislation (H.R. 892, S. 471) that would force a quicker resolution to the on-going study of permanent ecological separation between the Great Lakes and Mississippi river basins currently being conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers [See WIMS 9/27/11]. Schuette is also continuing forward with Michigan's lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers and the Chicago Water District, joined by attorneys general from Minnesota Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The states filed a Petition for a Writ of Certiorari asking the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case and require the Corps to take action to install block nets and accelerate the completion of its study of permanent ecological separation between the Great Lakes and Mississippi river basins [See WIMS 10/26/11].
    Access a release from AG Schuette (click here). Access the complete 53-slide presentation (click here). Access legislative details for H.R.892 (click here). Access legislative details for S.471(click here).

EPA Issues Two Proposed Vessel General Discharge Permits

Nov 30: U.S. EPA announced that it is issuing two draft vessel general permits that would regulate discharges from commercial vessels -- excluding military and recreational vessels. EPA said the proposed permits would help protect the nation's waters from ship-borne pollutants and reduce the risk of introduction of invasive species from ballast water discharges.

    The draft Vessel General Permit, which covers commercial vessels greater than 79 feet in length, would replace the current 2008 Vessel General Permit, when it expires in December 2013. Under the Clean Water Act, permits are issued for a five-year period after which time EPA generally issues revised permits based on updated information and requirements. The new draft Small Vessel General Permit would cover vessels smaller than 79 feet in length and would provide such vessels with the Clean Water Act permit coverage they will be required to have as of December 2013.

    Both permits will be subject to a 75-day public comment period, which will allow a broad array of stakeholders, including industry and communities, to provide feedback. That information will help inform EPA's decision on the final permits, which are expected to go into effect in 2013. EPA intends to issue the final permits in November 2012, a full year in advance, to allow vessel owners and operators time to prepare for new permit requirements.

    Information on the draft Vessel General Permit: EPA said the updated permit would reduce the administrative burden for vessel owners and operators, eliminating duplicative reporting requirements, clarifying that electronic recordkeeping may be used instead of paper records, and streamlining self-inspection requirements for vessels that are out of service for extended periods. The permit would continue to regulate the 26 specific discharge categories that were contained in the 2008 permit and, for the first time, manage the discharge of fish hold effluent.

    A key new provision of the permit is a proposed "numeric standard" to control the release of non-indigenous invasive species in ballast water discharges. The new ballast water discharge standard addressing invasive species is based upon results from independent EPA Science Advisory Board and National Research Council National Academy of Sciences studies. These limits are generally consistent with those contained in the International Maritime Organization's 2004 Ballast Water Convention.
   EPA said the new standard is expected to substantially reduce the risk of introduction and establishment of non-indigenous invasive species in U.S. waters. The draft Vessel General Permit also contains updated conditions for mechanical systems that may leak lubricants into the water and exhaust gas scrubber washwater, which would reduce the amount of oil and other pollutants that enter U.S. waters. EPA will take comment on potentially more stringent requirements for bilgewater discharges.

    Information on the draft Small Vessel General Permit: EPA indicates that this permit would be the first under the Clean Water Act to address discharges incidental to the normal operation of commercial vessels less than 79 feet in length. Recognizing that small commercial vessels are substantially different in how they operate than their larger counterparts, the draft Small Vessel General Permit is shorter and simpler. The draft permit specifies best management practices for several broad discharge management categories including fuel management, engine and oil control, solid and liquid maintenance, graywater management, fish hold effluent management and ballast water management, which consists of common sense management measures to reduce the risk of spreading invasive species. The permit would go into effect at the conclusion of a current moratorium enacted by Congress that exempts all incidental discharges from such vessels, with the exception of ballast water, from having to obtain a permit until December 18, 2013. 

    A number of Great Lakes oriented environmental organization reacted immediately to EPA's proposals and said, "Unfortunately, EPA's new limits are pegged to standards established by the International Maritime Organization [IMO], which while supported by the shipping industry, are not strict enough to prevent the introduction and spread of invasive organisms which currently cost the eight Great Lakes states over $1 billion every five years. Thom Cmar, attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) said, "It is hard to see the movement of invasive species until it is too late. Unfortunately, out of sight, out of mind has meant that we have not dealt with the problem of 'living pollution' as aggressively as other environmental threats like oil spills or toxic releases. The new proposed ballast water permit is par for that course --- it is a start, but nowhere near what is needed to stop these uninvited critters from sapping our most valuable water resources."

    The groups -- National Wildlife Federation, NRDC Great Lakes United, Alliance for the Great Lakes, and Healing Our Waters Coalition -- indicated that the permit update comes on the heels of a long legal battle to force EPA to regulate ballast water under the Clean Water Act. They said protective limits on invasive species in vessels' ballast discharges are necessary to prevent the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species carried in the ballast tanks from overseas ports. Species like the zebra and quagga mussels, spiny water fleas, and round gobies have all arrived to the Great Lakes via the unregulated discharge of contaminated ballast water.
    In a release the groups said, "While the new permit represents an improvement over previous versions, conservation groups and scientists are concerned that the weak international standards are not strict enough to prevent the next major invasive species threat. International Maritime Organization ballast water standards are not scientifically based and offer only a marginal improvement over the current practice of flushing ballast tanks with saltwater."
    They said the federal Clean Water Act requires EPA to give states an opportunity to add requirements to the proposed permit if the states find that more stringent provisions are necessary to protect against vessels' pollution. The states of New York and California have already adopted far more stringent standards, based on their own scientific determinations that anything less protective would leave their waters vulnerable to new species invasions. As part of EPA's permit update, all of the states will have the opportunity to decide whether they will adopt their own more stringent ballast water standards. In addition, the Coast Guard has finally sent its final rulemaking to set standards for living organisms in Ships' ballast water to the Office of Budget and Management. By contrast, recent legislation passed by the U.S. House of Representatives would also adopt the weak International Maritime Organization ballast water standards, but it would do so while also eliminating EPA's authority to require more protections under the Clean Water Act, as well as states' authority to create more stringent requirements under tougher state laws. 

    Access a release from EPA (click here). Access complete details including the two proposed permits, fact sheets, scheduled meetings, commenting procedures and economic analyses (click here). Access complete background and information on Vessel Discharges (click here). Access a lengthy release from the environmental groups with further comments (click here). [#Water, #Wildlife, #GLakes]