Judge sets clock on ballast rules
"There is no dispute that invasive species have been, and continue to be, introduced into the marine ecosystems of this country through ballast water discharges. There is also no dispute over the consequences that their introduction can have on t...
"There is no dispute that invasive species have been, and continue to be, introduced into the marine ecosystems of this country through ballast water discharges. There is also no dispute over the consequences that their introduction can have on the environment.' From a ruling by U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE
A federal judge in California, in the second phase of a landmark water pollution decision, has given the federal Environmental Protection Agency two years to start regulating the discharge of ballast water from ships.
In April 2005, U.S. District Judge Susan Illston in San Francisco ordered the EPA to immediately repeal regulations exempting ship operators from having to obtain permits that regulate the discharge of pollution.
On Monday, she issued a follow-up order.
"There is no dispute that invasive species have been, and continue to be, introduced into the marine ecosystems of this country through ballast water discharges,' Illston wrote in her 21-page ruling. "There is also no dispute over the consequences that their introduction can have on the environment.'
She gave the EPA until Sept. 30, 2008, to end its ballast water exemption for the shipping industry. That's more time than environmental groups wanted, but they were still claiming victory Wednesday.
"It's another huge win for our waters. We were waiting for this second half of the decision, and this essentially lays out what she wants the EPA to do, and when. Now they can either do it or appeal,' said Nina Bell, executive director of Northwest Environmental Advocates, one of several environmental groups that filed the suit.
EPA officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday. They are expected to appeal the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals.
The ruling eventually could have a huge impact on Great Lakes shipping. In 1999, the Washington, D.C.-based Ocean Conservancy and four other environmental groups petitioned the EPA to start regulating ballast, claiming the Clean Water Act prohibits the discharge of pollutants, including biological materials such as invasive species, into U.S. waters without a permit.
When the EPA refused to act, the groups filed a lawsuit in federal court in 2003. San Francisco Bay, like the Great Lakes, has been hit hard by exotic species, most of which came to the area in the ballast of ships.
Illston ruled that the EPA does not have the authority to exempt an entire class of discharge from regulation, likening ballast water to stormwater runoff as a category of water pollution to be regulated.
Ships use water in their ballast to aid in steering -- especially when they are not carrying cargo -- and the volume of water can add up. According to the judge's decision, a ship in the Great Lakes can contain as much as 14 million gallons of ballast water, while seagoing ships can carry twice that much. In all, it's estimated that the amount of ballast water discharged in U.S. ports annually exceeds 21 billion gallons.
As oceangoing ships arrive in Great Lakes ports to pick up grain and other materials, scientists say they may be carrying exotic fish, mussels or organisms that could wreak havoc here -- following past invaders like zebra mussels, spiny water fleas, goby and ruffe.
Experts say at least 40 additional species in Western European ports are candidates to make the move across the Atlantic to take hold in the Great Lakes.
Industry officials have been working since 1989 to find an economical way to filter or clean ballast water. But officials say there's no practical or affordable technology to clean ballast water onboard ships to a level that would, for example, remove zebra mussel larvae.
In Duluth, industry and academic experts are forming an institute to study and perfect ballast water treatment methods. The $3.5 million Great Ships Initiative was launched earlier this year.
About 1,200 ships visit the Twin Ports each year, about 100 of which are salties. Exotic species brought into other parts of the Great Lakes also can be moved around within the lakes by Great Lakes freighters.