Last week, the Coast Guard offered up standards for ballast water that would initially use those set by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and eventually ratchet the standard up to meet California and New York’s standard. The regulations would apply in phases so that feasibility studies can take place to make sure ships can meet the tougher requirements.
“That loophole could swallow the law,” HOW’s Andy Buchsbaum told the Washington Post. The fear is that we would never get to the higher standards because as it could be argued there is yet no way to test the technology beyond IMO standards. Ships would be allowed to pass right through the loophole. Still, requiring ships to meet IMO standards is better than nothing. Here is the next issue: In muddled federal government style, both the Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have jurisdiction over ballast water. That is why HOW is drafting a letter to the EPA on the issue requesting a much tougher standard than the IMO’s. However, the Washington Post story indicates that the EPA and the Coast Guard will end up with a similar standard for ballast water.
“Coast Guard Cmdr. Gary T. Croot, chief of the environmental standards division, said the two agencies have worked closely together and are likely to end up with very similar standards and shared enforcement responsibilities,” according to the Washington Post.
Meanwhile, back on the Hill, the US Senate continues to fail to approve a national ballast standard. Last year’s House bill was brought to a crashing halt by California Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) who feared that it could pre-empt states’ rights. While a national standard will most likely do little to affect California (a state that has set a strong and high bar to fight invasive species) it leaves our eight state region floundering in the fight to save our nation’s largest source of surface fresh water.
Within our region, Michigan has written its own ballast standard and it has enforced it. New York and Wisconsin have also set their own standards while Minnesota and Ohio’s legislatures are considering similar measures. This isn’t just an ecological issue, it is a pocket book issue and that should alarm any Blue or Red lawmaker. The last thing we need in the Great Lakes is a patchwork quilt of ballast standards. But the federal government really isn’t leaving the region with much choice. Perhaps the eight states should come together and set a strong region-wide ballast law that would affect all of the Great Lakes U.S. ports. For now, waiting for the Feds to act may mean losing ground in the battle to fight invasive species while draining state coffers – and that isn’t a real option.