Weak Ballast Water Permit Opens U.S. Waters to Continued Invasion

Conservation groups: Wimpy permit does not live up to Clean Water Act

CHICAGO  (March 28, 2013) – Today, the USEPA released a new permit to regulate ballast water discharges from commercial vessels in US waters that falls far short of what is needed in the estimation of a coalition of conservation organizations that had previously sued to win a tougher permit.

Invasive species introduced and spread via ballast water discharge are already wreaking havoc on U.S. waters. For example, 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. Invasive species exact similar significant economic costs throughout American waterways and on both coasts.

Despite the significant regional economic drain brought about by invasive species, the EPA permit fails to deliver strict enough standards to protect the nation’s waters, choosing instead to adopt weak International Marine Organizations (IMO) standards. While there is no hard deadline for ships to install systems to clean ballast water, EPA “expects” that the process will take a half-decade to complete.

Previously, the conservation groups have called for the new permit to include a discharge standard stringent enough to prevent invasive species and the most protective technology standards nationwide, develop standards for “lakers” (ships that ply the Great Lakes) and put more aggressive timelines to implement new technology standards into place. None of these actions were taken, leaving American waters at risk.

Following are reactions from the coalition:

“The Clean Water Act gives the EPA authority to stop invasive species from entering the Great Lakes in ballast water---they just chose not to use it,” said Rebecca Riley, attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “This failure threatens our economy and the single most important freshwater resource on the continent.”

“The permit will not adequately protect the Great Lakes and other U.S. waters from ballast water invaders,” said Marc Smith, senior policy manager for the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes office. “The EPA’s failure to protect water quality leaves the door open for future harm to our environment and economy.”

“Once again, EPA has failed to place the burden of controlling invasive species on those who create the problem, instead of those who are suffering the consequences of it,” said Nina Bell, Executive Director of the Portland, OR-based Northwest Environmental Advocates. “In this new permit EPA has compounded the high environmental and economic costs associated with existing invasive species by avoiding Clean Water Act requirements that would prevent new invasions.”

“The EPA had an opportunity to lead the world in solving this globally-dangerous problem, but they have missed the mark…again,” said Mary Ellen Ashe, Executive Director of Great Lakes United. “Despite the Great Lakes being ground zero for ballast mediated invasions, and the clear impacts of quagga and zebra mussels, round gobies and other species transforming the Great Lakes, the EPA did not take this chance to stop this problem once and for all.”

“While EPA has refused to push the edge of technology innovation, this permit still requires flushing of ballast tanks in the open ocean,” said Jared Teutsch of the Alliance for the Great Lakes. “Until there are truly protective standards driving technology forward, we have to hang to flushing as the ‘best of the rest.’ ”