Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 8, 2012

Environmental group sues NY over ballast rules


ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — The National Wildlife Federation sued New York state officials on Thursday for backing off on tough regulations to rid ship ballast water of invasive species that threaten the Great Lakes, the Hudson River and Long Island Sound.

The rules would have required cargo vessels to cleanse ballast water to a level at least 100 times stricter than Environmental Protection Agency standards. Environmentalists and New York's Department of Environmental Conservation have said the EPA standards are inadequate to protect against invasive species that could be introduced when ballast water is discharged prior to loading cargo.

DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said in February that the state will work for stronger national limits rather than proceeding with the tougher requirements. The agency said in a statement Thursday that it requires measures that aren't part of the EPA or Coast Guard programs, such as requiring that ships from foreign ports have both onboard ballast water treatment and ballast water exchange in the open ocean, "a practice that experts estimate will likely increase treatment effectiveness by a factor of 10."

"New York is confident that its thorough and comprehensive controls are effective and legally defensible," the agency said.

Shippers have said the previous, stronger New York rules would have effectively shut down international shipping in the Great Lakes since all international cargo ships must pass through New York waters to reach the lakes. Traffic at the busy Port of New York and New Jersey also would be affected.

The industry contends no technology exists to meet the stricter New York requirement. Environmentalists say carmakers made the same argument against stricter fuel efficiency standards, and then developed new technology when the standards forced them to.

Each state in the Great Lakes region was required to certify the EPA's regulations for ballast water discharges in 2008. The EPA rules were a minimum standard; each state had authority to impose stricter rules. New York did impose stronger rules, scheduled to take effect in August 2013. In February, DEC postponed that date to December 2013. Because they're tied to a federal permit that expires then, the state rules essentially are being canceled.

The standards limit the number of live organisms in ballast water, which ships carry for stability in rough seas and dump after arriving in port to take on cargo. Invasive species such as the zebra and quagga mussel, spiny water flea and round goby have been transported into Great Lakes waters in ship ballast.

Prevention and damage control from aquatic invasive species in the region costs more than $200 million a year.