Judge orders EPA to control ballast water
Written by Muskegon Chronicle   
Wednesday, 20 September 2006 13:46

A federal court in California has ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to regulate ballast water discharges from freighters, a ruling that has huge implications for the Great Lakes shipping industry.

Three environmental groups sued the EPA in 1999 after the federal agency declared that ballast water in freighters was exempt from regulations under the Clean Water Act. Environmentalists wanted the EPA to regulate ballast water as a pollutant because ballast water discharged by ocean freighters had introduced several exotic species into San Francisco Bay.

The federal court ruling directed the EPA to restrict the discharge of invasive species into U.S. waters, via freighters' ballast water, by Sept. 30, 2008. The ruling has national implications because it was handed down in federal court and involves a federal agency.
 
Michigan was one of six Great Lakes states that joined the lawsuit on behalf of the environmental groups that sued the EPA.

"If EPA had spent the last seven years developing a permitting program for ballast water instead of fighting this court battle, not only would our water be safer but our economy would be better protected," said Deborah Sivas, director of the Stanford University Environmental Law School Clinic, who represented the environmental groups who filed the lawsuit. "Invasive species come at a tremendous cost to both the environment and taxpayers."

The shipping industry, represented by a group called the Shipping Coalition, sided with the EPA and fought efforts to regulate ballast water discharges. The coalition asked the federal court to postpone any new ballast water regulations until it could appeal the ruling to a higher court; U.S. District Judge Susan Illston refused to grant a stay on her ruling pending an appeal.

Shipping industry officials could not be reached for comment this morning.

A spokesman for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality praised the court ruling.

"We're obviously pleased by it," DEQ spokesman Bob McCann said. "The Granholm administration has been pushing for the regulation of ballast water for some time."

The Michigan Legislature recently passed a law regulating ballast water discharges in Michigan's portion of the Great Lakes. That law, which takes effect Jan. 1, requires shipping companies to obtain discharge permits before emptying ballast tanks in Michigan waters.

There are more than 180 exotic species in the Great Lakes, many of which were brought here in the ballast water of ocean freighters.

Dealing with exotic species imported to the Great Lakes in ballast water has cost industries and communities billions of dollars in recent years, according to scientific studies. Exotic species also pose a threat to the $4 billion Great Lakes fishery.

Zebra mussels, which were imported to the Great Lakes from Europe in 1988 via ballast water, have clogged water intakes and are suspected of causing the near disappearance of diporeia in Lake Michigan. The tiny, shrimp-like diporeia is an important food source at the base of the Great Lakes food web. With less food in the lake, some species of fish -- whitefish, alewife and salmon -- are shrinking.

Zebra mussels also have been linked to outbreaks of toxic blue-green algae, which was discovered earlier this year in Muskegon and Bear lakes and can be harmful to humans.

Ballast water discharges by ocean freighters also delivered the round goby to the Great Lakes in the late 1990s. The fish has taken over parts of Lake Michigan and inland lakes, harming perch and other naive species.

A 1993 federal law required foreign ships entering the Great Lakes to exchange ballast water 200 miles offshore of the United States or enter the lakes with no ballast water on board. But studies have found that those fully loaded ships that enter the lakes without ballast water, called "No-BOBS," remain a breeding ground for exotic species and deadly bacteria that can thrive when spilled into the lakes.

 

 
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