As the Seaway opens this week for its 54th shipping season, we’ve been grappling to fully understand the long-term implications of last Friday’s release by the US Coast Guard of their final rule for regulating ship ballast discharges.
(The final Coast Guard rule can be found here. And, interested readers can learn more from the Watertown Daily Times: Environmental advocates “disappointed” with final US Coast Guard ballast rules and Associated Press: Coast Guard orders ships to cleanse ballast water to protect against foreign species invasions)
River communities know the serious impact aquatic invasive species have on the health of the St. Lawrence River and our local economy. Ship ballast discharges are the single largest source of aquatic invasive species introductions to the waters of the River and Great Lakes. Save The River and River communities have long advocated for strong ballast water clean-up rules to protect from future aquatic invasive species introductions.
As is often the case with news about federal regulations, we have good news and bad news to report on the Coast Guard’s rule. Unfortunately in this case the news is more bad than good.
The Coast Guard’s regulations contain several key disappointments.
- Weak Standard – The Coast Guard has selected to enforce the ‘IMO’ standard, which from our perspective represents the bare minimum for regulation and a standard that is not protective of the River.
- Weak Timeline – Most salties navigating the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River would have to comply with this new rule beginning in 2016, which is nearly 4 years away. (As a side note, the Coast Guard rule does not regulate ‘lakers’, ships that operate solely within the GreatLakes. Although lakers do not bring new aquatic invaders into the Lakes, they do contribute to their spread.)
- No Mechanism for Stronger Standards & Technology Development - In it’s draft, the Coast Guard had proposed a two phase approach to regulating ballast discharges, with a goal of ultimately reaching a very strong standard (commonly referred to as 1,000xIMO). This phased approach would have been critical in driving technology development for stronger ballast treatment systems. Unfortunately, the Coast Guard’s final rule eliminates the proposed second phase, removing incentive to develop even better ballast treatment systems.
While the Coast Guard does indicate in the final rule that they will consider stronger standards in the future, we are left to wonder how long it will take for them to do so and whether our River can wait.
A press release from our coalition partners Great Lakes United, National Wildlife Federation, Alliance for the Great Lakes and National Resources Defense Council details of actions for moving forward in efforts to clean up ship ballast tanks. (Coast Guard Issues Ballast Water Discharge Standards: Misses Mark to Protect Nation from Invasive Species; Conservation groups look to states and Environmental Protection Agency to strengthen standards, shortening timeline, and address loopholes )
In short, two opportunities are available in the coming year:
- US EPA Regulations – The US Environmental Protection Agency has yet to issue their final ballast regulations. We will be looking to the USEPA to step up to the plate on this issue and anticipate seeing their final regulation in the coming months.
- State Action – We will be continuing to ask states, such as New York that have considered their own ballast regulations, to continue to be leaders in protecting our waterways from the threat of future aquatic invasive species introductions.