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Rep. Huffman Urges EPA to Uphold CWA, Enact Regulations on Harmful Ballast Water Discharges

June 23, 2022

Washington, D.C. – Today, Congressman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) led over 30 of his colleagues in a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael S. Regan requesting the agency establish ballast water discharge standards that conform with the Clean Water Act (CWA). Ballast water, which is carried by ships to adjust buoyancy and trim, is the primary mechanism introducing new invasive species and foreign pathogens into US waters. Ballast water discharges cause billions of dollars of environmental damage, kill native species, and could introduce epidemic diseases into the U.S.

“Ballast water discharges are the leading source of invasive species in U.S. waters, posing public health and environmental risks, as well as significant economic cost to industries such as water and power utilities, commercial and recreational fisheries, agriculture, and tourism. EPA’s compliance with the CWA here is overdue,” the members said in their letter. “As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the CWA this year, it is time for the EPA to take immediate action to finally establish ballast water standards based on the best available technology as required under the CWA.”

In addition to Rep. Huffman, the letter was signed by Representatives Nanette Barragán (CA-44), Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), Lisa Blunt Rochester (DE At Large), Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01), Jamaal Bowman (NY-16), Cori Bush (MO-01), Troy Carter (LA-02), Ed Case (HI-01), Judy Chu (CA-27), Steve Cohen (TN-09), Rosa L.  DeLauro (CT-03), Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11), Anna G. Eshoo (CA-18), Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), John Garamendi (CA-03), Jesús G. “Chuy” García (IL-04), Sara Jacobs (CA-53), Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), Kaiali’i Kahele (HI-02), Andy Levin (MI-09), Mike Levin (CA-49), Ted W. Lieu (CA-33), Alan Lowenthal (CA-47), Doris Matsui (CA-06), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Chellie Pingree (ME-01), Mark Pocan (WI-02), Katie Porter (CA-45), Melanie Stansbury (NM-01), Mark Takano (CA-41), Mike Thompson (CA-05), Thomas R. Suozzi (D-NY-03), and Rashida Tlaib (MI-13).

The letter is supported by 74 national, state, and local organizations. A full list of the organizations can be found here

“We need effective ballast water treatment on ships operating in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River,” said John Peach, Executive Director of Save the River/Upper St. Lawrence Riverkeeper. “Previous invaders like Round Gobies, Rusty Crayfish and Zebra and Quagga Mussels continue to wreak havoc in these water systems.”

Background

The U.S. does have the technical ability to capture or kill harmful organisms and pathogens before they are released into waters, but the EPA has not established ballast water standards based on the best available technology, as required under the CWA.

The EPA’s failure to establish effective ballast water discharge standards has resulted in billions of dollars of environmental damage in marine, estuarine, and fresh waters of the United States. Organisms introduced by ballast water prey on native and commercial fish species and foul boats, navigational equipment, and beaches. Additionally, scientists at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the National Academy of Sciences and the Centers for Disease Control have warned about the potential for ballast water to introduce epidemic diseases into U.S. waters.

The full letter can be viewed here or below:

The Honorable Michael S. Regan Administrator

United States Environmental Protection Agency 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.

Washington, D.C. 20460

Dear Administrator Regan:

We are writing to request the EPA to establish ballast water discharge standards that conform with the Clean Water Act (CWA). Ballast water discharges are the leading source of invasive species in U.S. waters, posing public health and environmental risks, as well as significant economic cost to industries such as water and power utilities, commercial and recreational fisheries, agriculture, and tourism. EPA’s compliance with the CWA here is overdue.

As you know, this year marks the 50th anniversary of the passage of the CWA. For 36 years following the passage of the CWA, the EPA exempted ballast water discharges from the Act. Federal courts found this to be in violation of the CWA and ordered the agency to regulate ballast discharges. The EPA adopted discharge standards that did not meet the requirements of the CWA and that failed when challenged in court. In 2018, Congress passed the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (Title IX of Public Law 115–282) to reconcile and consolidate U.S. ballast water laws, confirming that the EPA must follow the CWA in establishing discharge standards; however, the EPA is proposing to re-issue discharge standards that the courts have previously found to be unlawful under the Act.

The EPA’s failure to establish effective ballast water discharge standards has resulted in billions of dollars of environmental damage in marine, estuarine, and fresh waters of the United States. Ships take up and discharge large volumes of ballast water in different parts of the world as a normal and necessary complement to the transport of cargo. In doing so they transport and release into the environment a wide variety of harmful organisms. Ballast water discharges can contain non-native and nuisance plant and animal species that can cause extensive ecological and economic damage to aquatic ecosystems.

Organisms introduced by ballast water include crabs that damaged shellfisheries; fish that competed with or preyed on native and commercial fish species; invertebrates that consumed organisms that native fish depend on, causing fish populations to crash; and mussels that have fouled boats, navigational equipment, and beaches, blocked pipelines, and devastated native mussel populations.

Ballast water discharges have also introduced harmful bloom-forming algae, toxigenic dinoflagellates that poisoned clam fisheries, and several bacteria that cause human diseases, including one pandemic strain that, after introduction into South America via ballast water, killed over 10,000 people. Scientists at the

U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the National Academy of Sciences and the Centers for Disease Control have warned about the potential for ballast water to introduce epidemic diseases into U.S. waters. Without regulatory standards that prevent the release of these disease organisms, communities with weaker water and wastewater treatment infrastructure, which are often already challenged communities, face a greater risk of epidemic spread.

Fortunately, the harmful organisms and pathogens carried in ballast water arrive at our shores trapped in ballast tanks and we have the technical ability to capture or kill them before they are released into U.S. waters. However, regulations must require effective treatment technology for it to be used. The EPA and the U.S. Coast Guard should also release to State regulators and the public all ballast water treatment system test data and supporting documents in their possession that is necessary to assess the performance of ballast water treatment systems. This is essential for States and members of the public to properly review federal management of ballast water discharges.

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the CWA this year, it is time for the EPA to take immediate action to finally establish ballast water standards based on the best available technology as required under the CWA. Thank you for leadership to ensure that the EPA meets its CWA obligations and protects our nation’s waters. We look forward to your prompt response.

Sincerely,

[Members of Congress]

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