NY Wins One for the Great Lakes

NWF and NRDC Help Notch a Win to Keep Invasive Species out of Our Fresh Water Ocean

CHICAGO (February 4, 2010) – Amidst the public battle over handling of the Asian carp threat in the Great Lakes, there is good news on the invasive species front today. A New York State appellate court dismissed a challenge brought by shipping interests against the state’s tough new ballast water requirements, which are designed to limit the introduction of more invasive species into the Great Lakes. This is the second time that the state, with help from intervening NGOs, has successfully defended the ballast water restrictions in court. Legal experts at Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and National Wildlife Federation (NWF) hail the win as a huge victory for states in the region that have taken an aggressive stand to limit dumping of water containing biological pollution from ocean going vessels. Alien species have already cost the Great Lakes economy billions of dollars.

“The Great Lakes are under assault like never before. It’s a battle being fought on many fronts, so it is gratifying to see New York taking the lead on what is perhaps the most damaging long-term invasive species entry point---ballast water from ships,” said Thom Cmar, an attorney at NRDC. “With all of the attention that the Great Lakes have been given in the federal budget and media coverage of Asian carp, we still need federal leadership to bolster the efforts of states line New York, Michigan, and California that are taking aggressive steps to protect the ecosystem representing 1/5 of the world’s fresh water.”

Due to the incredible environmental threat posed by invasive species, lawyers from NRDC intervened in the shipping industry lawsuit alongside the State of New York, representing NWF. The Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court, Third Judicial Department, rejected shipping industry arguments that the New York ballast water regulations were illegal because they were stricter than the U.S. EPA's nationwide discharge permit. 

“Today’s court decision is an important victory in the ongoing saga to protect our majestic Great Lakes from invasive species.” said Marc Smith, Policy Manager with National Wildlife Federation. “Requiring the shipping industry to install effective protections against these invaders is long over-due.  Now more than ever do we need aggressive federal action to help reinforce New York’s leadership to ensure a more comprehensive defense policy against invasive species."

The New York court's ruling that states have authority to adopt ballast water rules that are more protective than federal standards is consistent with the decision last year in a lower state court as well as the federal appeals court in Cincinnati to uphold Michigan's ballast water rules against a similar shipping industry challenge. NRDC and NWF also intervened in those cases, along with other environmental groups, to defend the challenged rules. 

The Great Lakes are a unique ecosystem representing 1/5 of the Earth's surface fresh water, but the vitality of the ecosystem has been threatened by alien species that have wreaked havoc on native fish and plants. Over 186 invasive species have been identified in the Great Lakes; since the St. Lawrence Seaway opened in 1959, 65% of invasive species introductions have been attributed to ballast water. The toll has been breathtaking. The entire Lake Michigan ecosystem has been changed by invasive species. The filtering of invasive mussels has, for the first time ever, allowed the lake floor to be carpeted with algae. These conditions have helped the invasive round goby become the most numerous fish in the lake, while all but eliminating many of the native species. In the 80’s, high profile invasions by the zebra mussel and sea lamprey decimated local drinking water infrastructure and fishing industries.

The ruling can be viewed online at http://docs.nrdc.org/wildlife/wil_10020401.asp

More information on invasive species in the Great Lakes can be found at www.nwf.org/greatlakes

Check the Switchboard blog for commentary from NRDC’s science and legal teams at http://switchboard.nrdc.org/