International Dredging Review

International Dredging Review

The Great Lakes Maritime Task Force has endorsed two ballast water bills now before Congress. The bills would be more stringent that the present regulatory system based on Clean Water Act permits which it deems inadequate to protect the Great Lakes from non-indigenous species.

A number of environmental organizations and some Great Lakes states want to use the Clean Water Act (CWA) and National Pollution Discharge Elimination Standard (NPDES) permit process to address ballast water introduction of exotics. Great Lakes Maritime Task Force opposes this approach as reliance on the CWA and NPDES permits will delay perhaps even preclude meaningful action.

John D. Baker president of Great Lakes Maritime Task Force said “These bills represent the best vehicle for prompt meaningful ballast water legislation. Further delay will preclude passage this year and perhaps even this (session of) Congress. That would be a tragedy of national consequence and leave all of us lamenting a lost opportunity.”

Deborah Nagle Chief of the EPA’s Industrial Permits Branch told attendees at a ballast water seminar in Washington in November that EPA regulations and statutes require the agency to consider the availability of technologies conduct a cost-benefit analysis and take into account other factors when setting a standard a sharp contrast to the extraordinarily high standard set in the pending bills.

Ocean-going vessels have introduced a number of non-indigenous species to the Great Lakes and other U.S. waters. While systems are being developed to address the problem lack of federal regulations and a clear standard applied across the board have forced vessel operators to wait until requirements have been finalized otherwise they risk installing costly systems that could be deemed unacceptable in the future.

Both the House and Senate are considering legislation (H.R. 2830 and S. 1578) to regulate ballast water. They propose a standard 100 times more protective than that endorsed by the International Maritime Organization an agency of the United Nations that oversees ocean shipping and recognize the unique nature of Great Lakes shipping by requiring the U.S. Coast Guard to develop special regulations for vessels with No Ballast on Board an issue particularly important on the Great Lakes.

Nagle’s comments substantiated the Task Force’s view. “We (the EPA) are obligated by our regulations and statute that when we establish technological standards… it is the best available technology that is economically achievable. There are two very key words there. ‘Available’ doesn’t mean somebody has prototyped this and it works. ‘Available’ means commercially available and feasible to put aboard ships.”

Nagle also cautioned that while a system may be available it may not meet the EPA’s economically achievable standards.

“Based on our standards of what is economically achievable (a system) may not rise to our ability to put that into the [NPDES] permit… These are all things we have to look at. I can tell you that what is in (senate bill) 1578 now is much more stringent than we could possibly put in a permit now… and may be even conceivable in the next five years.” She also noted that perhaps half of the states have statutes that incorporated the EPA’s regulatory exemption of “discharges incidental to normal operation of a vessel.”

Those states would require new legislation overturning their existing law before issuing NPDES permits.

Forty-six states and territories issue permits under the Clean Water Act. The Federal EPA only issues permits in five states.

Great Lakes Maritime Task Force was founded in Toledo Ohio in 1992 to promote domestic and international shipping on the Great lakes. With 73 members it is the largest coalition to ever speak for the Great lakes shipping community and draws its membership from both labor and management representing U.S.-flag vessel operators shipboard and longshore unions port authorities cargo shippers terminal operators shipyards and other Great lakes interests. Its goals include restoring adequate funding for dredging of Great Lakes deep-draft ports and waterways; protecting the nation’s maritime cabotage laws; maximizing the lakes overseas trade; and opposing exports and increased diversions of Great Lakes water.