Clean Water Act inadequate to protect Great Lakes from non-indigenous species
Published November 26, 2007
TOLEDO, OH – Invasive species legislation pending in Congress would be "much more stringent" than a regulatory system based on Clean Water Act permits, according to a senior official from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Deborah Nagle, Chief of the EPA's Industrial Permits Branch, made the comments at a ballast water seminar in Washington last week. She said that EPA regulations and statutes require the agency to consider the availability of technologies, conduct a cost/benefit analysis, and take into account other factors when setting a standard, a sharp contrast to the extraordinarily high standard set in the pending bills.
Ocean-going vessels have introduced a number of non-indigenous species to the Great Lakes and other U.S. waters. While systems are being developed to address the problem, lack of Federal regulations and a clear standard applied across-the-board have forced vessel operators to wait until requirements have been finalized, otherwise they risk installing costly systems that could be deemed unacceptable in the future.
Both the House and Senate are considering legislation (H.R. 2830 and S. 1578) to regulate ballast water. They propose a standard 100 times more protective than that endorsed by the International Maritime Organization, an agency of the United Nations that oversees ocean shipping, and recognize the unique nature of Great Lakes shipping by requiring the U.S. Coast Guard to develop special regulations for vessels with No Ballast on Board, an issue particularly important on the Great Lakes.
A number of environmental organizations and some Great Lakes States want to use the Clean Water Act (CWA) and National Pollution Discharge Elimination Standard (NPDES) permit process to address ballast water introduction of exotics. Great Lakes Maritime Task Force opposes this approach, as reliance on the CWA and NPDES permits will delay, perhaps even preclude meaningful action.
Nagle’s comments substantiated the Task Force’s view. “We [the EPA] are obligated by our regulations and statute that when we establish technological standards … it is the best available technology that is economically achievable. There are two very key words there. Available doesn’t mean somebody has prototyped this and it works. Available means commercially available and feasible to put aboard ships.”
Nagle also cautioned that while a system may be available, it may not meet the EPA’s economically achievable standards. “Based on our standards of what is economically achievable, [a system] may not rise to our ability to put that into the [NPDES] permit… These are all things we have to look at. I can tell you that what is in [S.] 1578 now is much more stringent than we could possibly put in a permit now … and may be even conceivable in the next five years.” She also noted that perhaps half of the States have statutes that incorporated the EPA’s regulatory exemption of “discharges incidental to normal operation of a vessel.” Those States would require new legislation overturning their existing law before issuing NPDES permits. Forty-six States and Territories issue permits under the Clean Water Act. The Federal EPA only issues permits in five States. The full 1½ hour Webcast can be viewed at www.tvworldwide.com/events/maritime_town_meeting/071120/default.cfm.
John D. Baker, President of Great Lakes Maritime Task Force, repeated the coalition’s call for Congress to pass strong ballast water legislation. “These bills represent the best vehicle for prompt, meaningful ballast water legislation. Further delay will preclude passage this year, and perhaps even this Congress. That would be a tragedy of national consequence and leave all of us lamenting a lost opportunity.”
Great Lakes Maritime Task Force was founded in Toledo, Ohio, in 1992 to promote domestic and international shipping on the Great Lakes. With 73 members, it is the largest coalition to ever speak for the Great Lakes shipping community and draws its membership from both labor and management representing U.S.-Flag vessel operators, shipboard and longshore unions, port authorities, cargo shippers, terminal operators, shipyards and other Great Lakes interests. Its goals include restoring adequate funding for dredging of Great Lakes deep-draft ports and waterways; protecting the nation’s maritime cabotage laws; maximizing the Lakes overseas trade; and opposing exports and increased diversions of Great Lakes water.