New York shuts the door on ballast water discharges of invasive species into the Great Lakes

This is the best news in decades on invasive species in the Great Lakes, and chances are, you haven’t heard it yet. Thanks to a New York rule upheld in court last week, starting in 18 months no ship can enter the Great Lakes unless it has the technology to disinfect its ballast water to stop the discharge of invasive species. And that’s not just in New York; it’s anywhere in the Great Lakes.

What happened last week is pretty technical, and that’s why it’s been quiet: New York’s Court of Appeals (the state’s highest court) refused to overturn the state’s conditions for certification of EPA’s national ballast water discharge permit. That means New York’s rules for implementing the national ballast water discharge permit are final – no more appeals. (Check out Thom Cmar’s blog post for further details).

What does that mean?

Well, New York’s rules say that beginning January 1, 2012, no ocean-going ship can travel through New York waters without having a ballast water treatment technology that meets some of the toughest standards in the world – approaching zero discharge of invasive species.  To repeat: any ocean-going ship that PASSES THROUGH NEW YORK’S WATERS must have a treatment system that meets these protective standards.

And how many ocean-going ships entering the Great Lakes pass through New York’s waters? EVERY SINGLE ONE. Any ocean-going ship entering the Great Lakes must travel through the St. Lawrence River, through a series of locks including the Snell and Eisenhower Locks in New York. Ships can’t get through the river into the Great Lakes without transiting those locks, and the two other entrances to the Great Lakes (the Erie Canal and the Chicago canals) aren’t big enough to handle ocean-going vessels. So ocean-going ships can’t get into the Great Lakes without traveling through New York’s waters.

And because every ocean-going ship entering the Great Lakes has to travel through New York’s waters, every one of those ships will have to install technology that can meet these incredibly protective ballast water discharge standards by January 1, 2012.

That’s huge.

Ballast water discharges from ocean-going ships are the largest source of invasive species in the Great Lakes. They’ve brought us creatures like zebra mussels, quagga mussels, round gobies, and spiny water fleas. And once these invaders establish residence in the lakes, they’re here to stay. They have few natural predators, so they outcompete native species, reproduce like crazy, and damage the Great Lakes ecosystem.

The Coast Guard and EPA have both taken half-measures to address these ballast water discharges, but none have been very effective. Congress has considered new legislation, but it stalled last session and in any event would not be implemented nearly as rapidly as New York’s rule.  States like New York have begun to step up, but common wisdom was that no single state could stop harmful ballast water discharges throughout the Great Lakes because ships could simply avoid that state and instead discharge their ballast water in a state with weaker protections or in Canadian waters.

But New York took advantage of geography. Knowing that every ship entering the Great Lakes has to travel through New York’s waters, New York set requirements for ships that are just passing through, even if they don’t actually discharge in New York. That means the New York standards apply to all ships entering the Great Lakes. The weaker protection efforts by the Coast Guard and EPA and the slower standards proposed in Congress have been left far behind.

Now the New York rules must be implemented and enforced, which is no small challenge. But New York deserves our applause and gratitude. In a mere 18 months – many years faster than the Coast Guard or Congress has even contemplated – no ocean-going ship will be able to discharge invasive species-contaminated ballast water into the Great Lakes. That truly will be something to celebrate.

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10 Responses to “New York shuts the door on ballast water discharges of invasive species into the Great Lakes”

  1. Don Says:

    Good news indeed to hear Tom’s optimism on a path toward Federal ballast water regulation. Aside from living organisms is there any testing done for chemicals etc? Flushing even in international waters will have the ability to distribute many new substances as diverse governments and industries divide the worlds oceans for commercial exploitation. Given our current ecological disaster tar balls come to mind as ocean currents move the under water plumes into shipping lanes.

  2. Don Says:

    This is from the House July 29 2010 interesting again they talk about it but ? “Although I am very pleased the House will be sending this bill to the President today, I still look forward to working with Chairman OBERSTAR on a broader bill to establish a fair and effective regime to regulate incidental discharges, as well as ballast water . As the Chairman knows, the current situation where we have 2 Federal agencies plus 28 different states enforcing 30 different standards on ballast water is crippling our maritime industry. I know the Chairman is committed to working through those issues and I hope we will have a bill on the floor soon. “

  3. Don Says:

    Interesting just read an article that says they are granting permits in NY now till technology is available, in other words if this is true we still have nothing, except a lot of money spent without enforcement of anything till the Federal government acts setting standards. As NY has loffty standards as a goal, maybe “new” study created for the military plan for “change” will set lower standards by 2012 and this is why the president ask Gov Patterson to step aside.

  4. Don Says:

    The fish or their eggs may be being transported by the barge ballast water, not just DNA. WE need national ballast water regulations to protect all American waters equally.
    With NY “tough laws” going to give passes to ships allegedly waiting for better technology, it shows that the money they spent was wasted and their regulations are just a part of a smoke screen of delay, to help this administration continue delaying the Coast Guards still purposed national plan.
    This administrations recent signing of a new Coast Guard Authorization bill leaving out ballast water, after Senator Boxer killed a Coast Guard Authorization bill in 2008, that passed overwhelmingly 395-7 in the House and would have protected American waters from foreign ships dumping ballast water in our waters, shows that this President is in no hurry to do anything soon to protect all American waters equally from human pathogens and virus being dumped in our waters by foreign ships delivering foreign manufactured goods. Now all the Great Lakes states are worried about NY’s plan, and they should not be, because this is just being staged. Remember the presidential election year of 2012 is when NY regulations would matter.

  5. Don Says:

    http://www.homelandsecuritydialogue.org/dialogue1/borders/ideas/ballast-discharge-control

  6. don mitchel Says:

    The best time to have enacted ballast water legislation was in 2008 when h.r.2830 passed the House 395-7 at the beginning of the global economic crisis when ship traffic, that is needed in economic globalization was curtailed. Unfortunately this administration chose to delay meaningful legislation with another study for a still purposed military plan of 20 plus years.
    Knowing a report prepared for Congress in 2009 stated that legislation calling for mandatory technology installation would increase the cost of foreign manufactured products, this administration made a conscious choice to not address the issue passing up the opportunity to again place America on a level playing field in manufacturing cost. Although some forms of economic globalization are inevitable and beneficial, globalization for economic reasons, at the expense of human health and the environment of future generations is nothing more than economic greed.
    In the millennium report prepared for the army in 2005-2006 detailing the military role with the environment it is made clear that international treaties are often thwarted by foreign countries and economic interest. Environmental issues are also cited as the cause of military conflicts. Sadly they also detail the governments policy will be to continue to follow the international communities lead, because of interdependency with foreign economies.
    This Administration Ocean initiatives policy states that all international treaties that have been ratified and those presently being adhered to will be honored. This means in its present form the ballast water provision in the International Law of the Sea treaty will apply for the waters of the United States at the Federal level. The millennium report also states that many problems exist with coastal countries and the provisions in international treaties.
    Fortunate for the environment, is pressure being applied by the individual states of our country enacting their own laws as a results of this administrations failure and the pressure of environmentalist, technology is now available to address ballast water.
    Unfortunately the continued failure of this administration to act with meaningful ballast water regulation has the shipping industry procrastinating on the economic investment to retrofit with technology quickly. As more shipping companies began to retrofit slowly the effect that logistics and cost would have to again create a cost competitive America will be forever lost, as human health and our environment continue suffering while waiting for an international solution or a purposed 20 year Coast Guard plan.
    Our Great Lakes are also in danger from terrorist attacks using ballast systems according to Homeland Security as stated on their own web site.
    Ships used exclusively on the Great Lakes should also be required for technology as it is now know from government studies that influenza, h1n1, bird flue, and mutations occur in FRESH water lakes and glacier and moved by birds. Ballast water should not facilitate this movement.

  7. Don Says:

    At the end of 2008 when the demise of h.r.2830 was assured at the start of this administration, all of the states rattle their swords with predictable response to create meaningful legislation for ballast water, but the foreign shipping industry said, it was just a “pipe dream” they knew they had won and a policy following an international approach,in favor of their economic business interest would prevail, instead of any enforceable, meaningful American law to protect all American waters equally. Now Wisconsin one of the last of the Great Lakes States with a loud bark is considering a policy to be the first to cater to foreign shipping. NY ballast water laws will be the last wasted money this administration will need to create, with pressure to give in favoring a weak military plan. Then this administration can proceed with a slow military delay program helping ease the economic pain to foreign shipping to install equipment forever giving up the opportunity to put America on a level playing field in manufacturing cost. California laws, although tough have historically already, been shown ineffective, because of the cost to make them meaningful through enforcement. This is obvious as the environmentalist, still are fighting for protection, from the ballast water problems that lurk beneath the sea. Unfortunately invasive s, human bacteria and virus, introduction will also be delayed for the whole world with a slow Federal policy or an international plan. As we continue to wait until sometime in the middle of 2011 for the military delay plan, watch NY and their laws, as it will be the tell, to the future, of any “change” in the way America dose business in the world
    Unless comprehensive Federal policy (preferably law) is created directing the Coast Guard to enforce strong regulation, (law) the historic attitude, of disinterest the Coast Guard has displayed will continue as they consider this an International Maritime Organizations area to orchestrate compliance.

  8. Don Says:

    Looks as though any hope for a meaningful ballast water policy will be up to NY to force the issue, as the latest news from California is not good, but I am willing to bet, that although as attorney general, the new governor spent a lot of the states money creating strong ballast water laws, he will cave to a weak still purposed Coast Guard plan no matter what the timeline is, or even wether it requires technology instalation.
    Interesting Senator Boxer of California kills ballast water legislation passed in the house 395-7, back in 2008, that would have protected the whole country equally, over her frivolous wish for California to be able to enact stronger laws. Now articles are saying California is backing down on its current ballast water laws for being to strict. NY laws will be next to go, making President Obamas week military plan look attractive. Senator Boxers position in 2008 killing ballast water legislation, to allegedly preserve her states rights to stronger laws, (despite president Obama’s reported rhetoric voicing support for legislation) was as the sponsor of the bill, former Rep Oberstar suggested “BS” and now it is being proven by California’s latest action.
    Now after all the wasted money this administration created leaving the states to create useless laws, the Presidents delayed Coast Guard plan will provide a weakened standard with a longer time line and President Obama and the Coast Guard WILL BE PRAISED by media for creating protection, when THE REALITY will be, that the killing of the legislation the house voted for in 2008 and the delayed weakened plan will favor the foreign shipping industry more than the American environment and human health. Nor will it be of any help createing quick protection, which would level the playing field for American manufacturing cost by ending the free pass given to foreign ships delivering foreign manufactured goods.
    It really is not funny how our politicians waste our money to posture their political stature. Odd Paterson, governor of NY, ask by President Obama to step aside created strong ballast water laws- GONE!, Strickland strong advocate for ballast protection- GONE!, Oberstar creator of national ballast legislation h.r.2830- GONE! Granholm strong advocate for national ballast water regulation mentioned for Obama positions,- GONE- PASSED OVER! Governor Schwarzenegger strong environmental advocate for ballast water, GONE!- coinciding with a newly created weakening of California’s ballast water laws. Senator Boxer the killer of national ballast water laws RETAINED!, with large show of support from President Obama during elections.

  9. Don Says:

    Predictably, it looks as though NY is slowly trying to save face and back down on ballast water despite the money spent creating and defending these laws, illustrated by the 2012 date for compliance reportedly extended by a year and a half. Odd when I wrote to Governor Paterson in 2008 about H.R.2830 and how our state would be represented, a Mr. Tierney from the NY DEC wrote back to me by US mail, on the Governors behalf claiming how great this state ballast legislation would be in comparison to H.R.2830 which would have been well under way by now. I wrote Mr. Tierney back, expressing concern on how they planed on enforcing these State laws, but never received an answer.
    Senator Boxer subsequently killed legislation H.R.2830 for the whole country back in 2008, while the three top officials of this administration were all Senators. She allegedly believed it to weak for her states rights. Now California is backing down from her position as well as NY is backing down allegedly because the stricter laws can not be met??? “according to the shipping industry”? So now three years later all we have is a still purposed plan being concocted by the military, which so far appears as little more than following the international Maritime Organization lead of delay.
    Our politicians need to act mandating technology other than the ocean flushing, which only uses dilution as the solution for pollution. Flushing dose not address all problems associated by ballast discharges. Just using salinity alone dose not address ocean invasive’s and other substances such as tar balls that can also be taken on during ocean flushing. Human health will continue being at risk and destruction of our waters will continue as shipping traffic continues to increase if our politicians do not start acting prudently.

  10. don mitchel Says:

    Anyone who follows the history of ballast water should realize that after Senator Boxer killed legislation in 2008 passed in the House 395-7, to protect us from ballast water our politicians have been caving in to foreign shipping which constitutes the majority of flag ships in US waters. They currently have discussions going on in Congress concerning the economic problems this would create for shipping. California’s action reversing their stance for tough regulations despite Senator Boxers claim that the legislation she killed for the whole country was not strong enough, points out the political game they are playing with American health an environment. Not a single piece of new legislation has been introduced in Congress by either party since, and the EPA had to be sued to even address the idea of creating a standard. Our President as commander and chief, three years after allegedly supporting congressional legislation in 2008 has done nothing but allow a continuous delay on Coast Guard standards, the latest being a delay to “correlate” ( after the next presidential election) with a yet undeveloped EPA standard. New York’s governor, as attorney general developed their purposed tough standards and has now delayed them in conjunction. It is about our dependence on foreign manufactured products to bolster our economy, and sadly although America was capable of putting a man on the moon, because shipping interest say that: ” technology is not out there ” significant action will probably never be taken. What ever weak action is taken environmentalist will have to accept and new shipping investments to develop a fix for the problem will be minimal as they know the political will is gone the same as many of the politicians who did care, Granholm, Schwarzenegger, Patterson, Strickland, Oberstar, etc. Interesting with the political help of our President, Senator Boxer the person responsible for killing national ballast water legislation was reelected. Not surprising since the issue of ballast water is never public-ally broad cast by the news media, despite the severe affects the way it is handled will affect both, Americans and the worlds health and environment forever. The ironic travesty will be the way some who claim to care about environmental stewardship along with the shipping interest will portray weak action with respect and decorum as a great achievement, further destroying a chance for future significant actions. Shipping has won as this problem is not even close to being solved.

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