Conservation groups warn of hole in ballast water bill
Letters to Feingold, Kohl encourage vote against the measure
7/24/08: Appeals court rules that EPA must regulate ballast water
A series of reports on acute problems plaguing Lake Michigan and the
The 14 conservation organizations, including the Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council, sent a letter Friday to Wisconsin Senators Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl urging the Democrats to oppose the measure that has so far enjoyed widespread support.
Their worry is the legislation may supersede provisions of the Clean Water Act and insulate the shipping industry from future suits under that law.
also pre-empt states such as
on the industry - and Congress - is mounting in a region frustrated that the
The letter's timing is no surprise.
Just this week, a federal appeals court ruled in favor of West Coast conservationists who sued the federal government to acknowledge that ship-steadying ballast water, which can be teeming with organisms, is a pollutant that must be regulated like all the other noxious substances covered by the Clean Water Act.
The Environmental Protection Agency refused for more than three decades to regulate ballast water under the Clean Water Act. Now the court has given the agency until Sept. 30 to start doing its job, but language in the pending ballast water bill may render that ruling moot.
ruling has exposed a severe rift in the conservation community at a critical
time. The U.S. House this spring approved a ballast law that is supported by
the shipping industry and many Great Lakes environmental groups, including the
National Wildlife Federation and the
lot of us have been puzzling for some time as to why
the bill also designates the Coast Guard, not the EPA, as the lead agency for
enforcing ballast regulations, and the Coast Guard has a history of ignoring congressional
directives when it comes to regulating ballast discharges. Further, the bill
prohibits states from passing future tougher ballast laws if they determine the
federal law isn't getting the job done.
"I honestly don't know how people who support the legislation can rationalize it, because it doesn't move very swiftly and it doesn't move very stringently, and those are the two things we need," she said.
They acknowledge the shipping industry has been involved in developing the House bill language, but they bristle at the idea that it is an industry-driven law. It is, they say, the product of years of negotiations.
"Our position has always been to strengthen (the House) bill and pass it," said Jeff Skelding of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, which represents about 100 regional environment groups. "We're supporting the bill, but at the same time we're working hard to improve it."
the Clean Water Act is largely administered by state governments, we fear a
patchwork of regulatory requirements throughout the
At this point it appears the industry has yet to win that concession in the Senate.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has so far refused to let a ballast bill move forward unless a Clean Water Act "savings clause" is included to make it clear nothing in the new law removes the EPA's responsibility to treat ballast like any other industrial pollution.
Absent a new ballast bill, the court ruling this week means the shipping industry will now have to receive EPA permits to discharge ballast. The EPA has so far only proposed requiring ships to flush or exchange their ballast tanks with saltwater before arriving at a port, something that is already required of overseas ships arriving in the Great Lakes.
who support the new ballast bill point to the EPA's plan to essentially do
nothing new for the
"The fact that we have clarification that the EPA has the authority (to regulate the shipping industry) doesn't mean the problem is solved," says Jennifer Nalbone of the conservation group Great Lakes United. "It's still a crisis."
Public comment on the EPA proposal ends Aug. 1, and the conservationists who sued to enforce the Clean Water Act are hopeful they will be able to persuade the agency to adopt more stringent ballast regulations. If the agency does not, they are willing to force the issue - into court again, if necessary.
It's a strategy others say has proved effective in pushing the ballast issue forward.
would be no way, shape or form that the shipping community would be anywhere
near this table if they were not afraid of being regulated by the Clean Water
Act. No way," says Henry Henderson, director of the
all conservation groups have said they support a moratorium on the overseas
freighters in the
small number of ships would be affected; last year, an average of fewer than
two overseas ships per day sailed up the St. Lawrence Seaway and into the
it won't come to that, but I would not completely take it off the table on the
grounds that it's politically unacceptable," Feingold said last week.
"What's unacceptable is the destruction of the