Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Groups Urge EPA To Strengthen Ballast Water Discharge Permit

Feb 21: A joint release from Great Lakes and other environmental organizations indicates that U.S. EPA is failing to uphold its Federal Clean Water Act duty to protect the Great Lakes and other U.S. waters from the introduction and spread of invasive species via ships' ballast water discharge. The groups expressed their opposition in comments to the Agency and called on EPA to strengthen a proposed permit to regulate ballast water discharges from commercial vessels. The groups included: Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC); Great Lakes United; Alliance for the Great Lakes; National Wildlife Federation; and Northwest Environmental Advocates.
    Thom Cmar, attorney with the NRDC said, "The EPA's new proposed permit isn't tough enough to prevent the next harmful invader from slipping into our waters. The Clean Water Act provides the tools to finally slam the door on invasive species stowing away in vessels' ballast tanks, but EPA is still not proposing the strong federal standards we need to fully protect the Great Lakes and other economically valuable but vulnerable watersheds throughout the country."
    In the releases, the groups indicated that invasive species introduced and spread via ballast water discharge are already wreaking havoc on the Great Lakes and other U.S. waters. A litany of non-native invaders -- including zebra mussels, quagga mussels, spiny water fleas and round gobies -- have turned the Great Lakes ecosystem on its head, altering the food web and threatening the health of native fish and wildlife. Non-native ballast water invaders cost Great Lakes citizens, utilities, cities and businesses at least $1 billion every five years in damages and control costs, according to research by the University of Notre Dame.
    They indicated that, "Despite the staggering costs associated with the damage caused by invasive species, the EPA has resisted taking action on the issue for decades. The proposed permit to regulate ballast water discharges comes after a long legal battle. Now, as the nation celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, advocates are working to ensure the agency finally issues a permit that shuts the door on invasive species."
    The groups indicated that the proposed ballast water permit takes modest steps to reduce the risk of ballast-mediated introductions. They said the permit: Requires ships to install technology that meets the International Maritime Organization's standard to treat ballast water; and Requires ships entering the Great Lakes to employ the added protection of exchanging ballast water to flush out and kill non-native freshwater organisms
    However they said the permit still leaves the Great Lakes and other U.S. waters vulnerable to the introduction and spread of invasive species -- and does not adhere to the Clean Water Act. The groups are asking the EPA to make the following improvements to the permit:
  • Adopt a zero-discharge standard for invasive species
  • Adopt the most protective technology standards nationwide
  • Develop standards for lakers, ships that ply the Great Lakes
  • Develop a faster implementation timeline to implement new technology standards
    Nina Bell, Executive Director of the Portland, OR-based Northwest Environmental Advocates said, "Not only does EPA's permit fail to meet federal law, but the agency has accepted the shipping industries' time frame for installing ballast water treatment without reservation. As a result, EPA's proposed action will require only half of all ships to have installed treatment by 2016 with the other half dragging out until 2021. After 12 years and three lawsuits, EPA's proposal is too little, too late to protect the nation's environment and economy."
    The groups said now the states must certify EPA's permit. EPA must issue a final permit by November 30. Marc Smith, senior policy manager for the National Wildlife Federation's Great Lakes office said, "There is still time to get this right. Half-measures will not cut it. Prevention is the only responsible course of action to stop the influx of living, breathing, biological pollution into U.S. waters. A failure to confront this problem will allow the problem to get worse and more costly. We have solutions. It is time to use them."
    Access the joint release (click here).
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