Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Court Orders EPA To Develop Ballast Water Discharge Regs

Sep 18: According to a release from three environmental organizations (Northwest Environmental Advocates, The Ocean Conservancy, and Baykeeper), a Federal Court in the Northern District of California [Northwest Environmental Advocates v. EPA (North D. Ca.)] has found that EPA’s regulation exempting ballast water discharges from the Clean Water Act is “plainly contrary to the congressional intent,” and has ordered the Agency to develop new regulations in two years. The order follows the court’s finding last year (March 2005) that EPA had illegally exempted ships’ ballast water discharges from Clean Water Act permit requirements. The three organizations filed a petition with EPA in January 1999, requesting it to develop regulations. EPA denied the petition in 2003, which triggered the lawsuit. The ruling directs EPA to take specific action by September 30, 2008 to ensure that shipping companies comply with the Clean Water Act and restrict the discharge of invasive species in ballast water.

Deborah Sivas, Director of the Stanford Law School Environmental Law Clinic and representing the three plaintiff groups, noted that, “If EPA had spent the last seven years developing a permitting program for ballast water instead of fighting this court battle, not only would our water be safer but our economy would be better protected. Invasive species come at a tremendous cost to both the environment and taxpayers.” Nina Bell, Executive Director of Northwest Environmental Advocates, one of the plaintiffs, said the court order will shift some of the burden of invasive species from taxpayers to shippers. She said, “This is a very important ruling for the taxpayers, American businesses, and environment that currently pay the huge price of EPA’s continuing refusal to implement the Clean Water Act. Now we have a fighting chance to prevent further invasions of species that are clogging the intake pipes of drinking water facilities and power plants, harming the commercial fishing industry, and destroying habitat. To regulate ballast water has never required that we reinvent the wheel; the Clean Water Act could have been effectively controlling these discharges for over thirty years.”

In their release the groups said the absence of effective federal action, combined with the high cost of invasive species to the environment, industries, and drinking water sources, has led numerous states to pass their own laws. Michigan will require shippers to have permits by early next year. In California, a bill is pending that would adopt the most strict limitations on the discharge of ballast-borne invasive species in the world. Six Great Lakes states -- New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Minnesota, and Wisconsin -- joined the environmental groups’ lawsuit to persuade the court to require a Federal permitting program [See WIMS 9/7/05].

Access a posted release (
click here). Access the complete 19-page, March 2005 Federal Court decision (click here). Access the environmental groups complaint and original petition for review (click here). Access a September 2005, release from Michigan AG Mike Cox on the states' intervention in the case (click here). [*Water, *GLakes]