Coast Guard Releases Draft Ballast Plan

Zebra Mussels Attack!

Zebra Mussels Attack!

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.

This entry was posted in Aquatic Invasive Species, Threats and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Coast Guard Releases Draft Ballast Plan

  1. Don Mitchel says:


    Dear Sirs, Yesterday October 22 2009,discussions about h.r.3619 in the House of Representatives seems to show that once again that previous legislation on ballast water passed by the house may have been as Rep Oberstar has reportedly expressed just “bullshit”. The following is from the House of Representatives discussion about again addressing ballast water with the latest Coast Guard Authorization Act.H.R.3619. “Lastly, I am concerned with our inability to include language that would establish uniform national standards for vessel discharges, including ballast water. I have spoken on numerous occasions with Mr. Oberstar, and I want to take particular note to thank Mr. Oberstar once again for his keen interest in solving this problem and bringing so many interested parties to the table. I know that Mr. Oberstar shares my concerns and that of many of my colleagues, both on the committee and in Congress, to address this issue through legislation this year. I thank him for his offer to work with us, and I look forward to bringing the bill to the floor in the very near future.”
    Sincerely Don Mitchel
    Like this comment Like
    # Don Mitchel Says:
    October 23rd, 2009 at 8:33 am

    Sad they still do not mention the human pathogens associated with ballast dumping.
    From the House of Representative October 22

    “Although there are many good provisions in this bill worth noting, I would like to talk briefly about a provision that was not included in this year’s bill, ballast water management.

    As an environmentalist and a protector of our Great Lakes, I believe we must act quickly and properly on ballast water management. Although aquatic invasive species enter into our ecosystems through many different pathways, such as natural migration, attaching themselves to ships and aquaculture, the most common pathway is through ballast water.

    Ballast water is pumped onboard a ship to control its stability at sea. Ships often take on ballast water at a foreign port and discharge it at their USA destination port. When a ship pumps harbor water into its ballast tanks, it usually also sucks up aquatic species from that harbor. When those ballast tanks are emptied, those often-dangerous species are introduced into a new ecosystem and they may perpetuate as an invasive species.

    Since some ships are capable of holding millions of gallons of ballast water, the potential for spreading invasive species is unavoidable. Once an invasive species takes hold in a new environment, it has the ability to disrupt the balance of an ecosystem and cause significant environmental and economic harm.

    The amount of harm caused to this Nation enters the tens of billions of dollars in damage each year. For example, zebra mussels have cost the various entities in the Great Lakes Basin an estimated $5 billion for expenses related to cleaning water-intake pipes, purchasing filtration equipment and so forth. Sea lamprey control measures in the Great Lakes cost approximately $10 million to $15 million annually. On top of these expenses, there is the cost of lost fisheries due to these invaders.

    * [Begin Insert]

    For these reasons, combating aquatic invasive species is a central element of the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration strategy and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to protect and restore the Great Lakes.

    Last year, I worked closely with Chairman Oberstar to include a title on Ballast Water Management in the Coast Guard bill, which would have created a uniform national standard for ballast water treatment. The goal was to have no living organisms in ballast water discharged by ships after 2013.

    Although I would have liked this bill to once again include a provision on ballast water management, I am cognizant that this provision may be one of the reasons this bill has been held up in the Senate. However, I believe Congress must act, and that there must be a uniform national standard. A patchwork of different State laws is untenable, especially in the Great Lakes where a ship may visit numerous ports in numerous different States, not to mention Canada.

    Therefore, I look forward to working with the Chairman to address ballast water management in another bill very soon. By spending millions of dollars preventing aquatic invasive species from entering our waters now, we can avoid spending billions of dollars trying to control and manage them once they are here. The adage, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” may have never been more appropriate”