TRAVERSE CITY — An environmental group said Wednesday it has sued the federal government, contending that recently established regulations for ships to treat ballast water before releasing it into U.S. waterways aren’t strong enough to prevent more aquatic species invasions.
The National Wildlife Federation’s lawsuit asks a federal appeals court to rule that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency failed to meet Clean Water Act requirements with a permit issued in April that applies to an estimated 60,000 vessels longer than 79 feet. It requires them to install some type of technology — such as ultraviolet light or chemical treatment devices — that would kill at least some organisms in ballast water.
“This weak permit leaves the door open for future harm to our environment and economy,” said Marc Smith, senior policy manager for the federation.
An EPA spokeswoman referred a request for comment to the U.S. Department of Justice, which also declined to comment.
Ships are equipped with tanks that can hold millions of gallons of water, providing stability in rough seas. But the brew of water, sediment and seaweed sucked into the tanks while vessels are in port can contain fish, mussels and other critters that are hauled to distant harbors and released. Some of the newcomers have no natural predators in their new environments, allowing them to multiply rapidly, out-compete native species for food and habitat, spread disease and destabilize ecosystems.
At least 185 aquatic invaders have reached the Great Lakes, mostly in ballast water, experts say. Among the most notorious are zebra and quagga mussels, which have done untold millions of dollars in damage and spread all the way to California, clogging pipes at power and wastewater treatment plants. They’re also believed at least partly responsible for growth of harmful algae, die-offs of loons and other shore birds and declines of some types of fish.