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Judge: Minnesota PCA should regulate ballast

A state district court judge in Ramsey County has ordered the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to regulate ballast water released by Great Lakes ships as pollution.

A state district court judge in Ramsey County has ordered the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to regulate ballast water released by Great Lakes ships as pollution.

Judge Kathleen Gearin issued the ruling Tuesday in a lawsuit filed last year by the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.

Gearin ruled that the PCA must enforce both the federal Clean Water Act and state statutes and have a permit system in place to regulate ballast water discharges as pollution starting Oct. 1. The MCEA had asked that ballast water be regulated immediately.

The judge's order is the first time the state has been specifically mandated to regulate ballast water and enforces a federal court order from 2005 ending the ballast water exemption from Clean Water Act rules.

But the PCA already has moved to adopt ballast water standards. PCA officials last week unveiled a draft permit plan that will require ships to have discharge permits by September and require them to treat ballast water by 2013.

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Ballast water is used to balance ships during loading and unloading and to help steady ships under way in some cases. Many of the Great Lakes' 185 foreign species are believed to have entered the region by hitchhiking in ballast tanks, and scientists say some of those species are wreaking havoc on the Great Lakes ecosystems.

Janette Brimmer, attorney for the MCEA, said the judge's ruling will keep the PCA on track toward developing a solid ballast water treatment regulation over the next five months despite pressure from the shipping industry to wait for possible federal rules.

Brimmer credited her group's lawsuit, filed last year, with pushing the PCA toward ballast regulation even in advance of the judge's decision.

"I think it's clear that if the agency just issues a blank piece of paper in October saying 'here's your ballast permit' that the judge will not be happy," Brimmer said. "What the judge is clearly saying is that Minnesota can't sit around and wait for the feds to act."

PCA officials praised the judge's decision not to immediately require ballast regulation as requested by the MCEA.

"We are pleased that the court rejected MCEA's request to enact regulation immediately and instead affirmed the timeline for regulation that MPCA'' is enacting, said Brad Moore, PCA commissioner, in a statement. "This decision will allow us to continue the current comprehensive process that allows for public input and will result in a permit by Oct. 1.''

Several additional lawsuits are challenging federal agencies to regulate ballast water. Meanwhile, legislation to regulate ballast has again stalled in Congress.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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