EPA Agrees to Issue Standards for Protecting U.S. Waters From Ship Pollution, Invasive Species

WASHINGTON— The Environmental Protection Agency agreed today to finalize nationwide standards that will protect U.S. waterways from harmful vessel discharges. Under the agreement, the agency must release final regulations on ballast water discharges by Sept. 24, 2024.

“I’m glad the EPA will take action after years of delay, and I hope the agency finally cracks down on ships that dump water with pathogens and invasive species,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This agreement is an overdue victory for our ocean ecosystems and public health, which have been plagued for years by weak rules on ballast water dumping.”

Today’s agreement is the result of a lawsuit from the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth, represented by Stanford Law Clinic, against the agency for failing to finalize standards. The agreement must undergo public review and comment and then be approved by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

Discharges of vessel ballast water originating thousands of miles away can carry invasive species, pathogens and pollutants. These can contaminate waters and threaten ecosystems, public health and economies.

“For decades, polluted vessel discharges have threatened the health of our waterways and all who depend on them, and their harm continues to grow,” said Marcie Keever, director of oceans and vessels at Friends of the Earth. “By holding the shipping industry to new and improved standards, EPA is finally taking a long-needed step toward protecting and preserving our waters for generations to come.”

Vessel pollution has spread harmful zebra mussels, coral diseases and even human pathogens. Communities with unreliable water treatment systems, including low-wealth and environmental justice communities, may be at heightened risk from introduced human pathogens.

To improve stability, ships take up ballast water at their origins, and this water contains animals, plants and other organisms. The vessels carry that water to their destinations, where it is released and the foreign species are let out into the aquatic ecosystems. Some of these now-invasive species threaten native organisms and water quality.

“The Stanford Environmental Law Clinic is pleased that EPA has agreed to enter this consent decree. Moving forward, however, it is just the first step,” said Matthew Sanders, the acting deputy director of the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic, part of the Mills Legal Clinic at Stanford Law School. “Alongside and on behalf of our clients the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth, we will continue to press EPA to satisfy its legal duty to issue robust standards for vessel incidental discharges.”

The new standards will end the EPA’s track record of ignoring vessel pollution. Courts have rejected the EPA’s inadequate vessel discharge standards in the past, and Congress required the agency to establish new vessel discharge standards, including standards to control ballast water pollution, by Dec. 4, 2020.

Under the Biden administration, the EPA repeatedly postponed the release of its final standards. In fall 2020 the agency projected that the final standards would be published in March 2021, but then said it would take nearly the entire four years of Biden’s first term.

In June 2022, 34 members of Congress asked EPA Administrator Michael Regan to end the agency’s 50-year failure to comply with the Clean Water Act and finally issue the ballast water discharge standards required by the Act. In November 2022, 180 environmental organizations, public health organizations, commercial- and sport-fishing organizations and Native American tribes asked President Biden to order EPA to finally follow the law on ballast water discharges. The Biden administration did not respond to either letter.

Source : Center for Biological Diversity


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