The U.S. Senate approved a compromise policy last week on dumping ship ballast water in coastal ports and the Great Lakes, a practice blamed for spreading invasive species that damage the environment and the economy. The plan, part of a $10.6 billion Coast Guard budget authorization bill, includes provisions sought by environmentalists as well as the cargo shipping industry. They have battled for years how to regulate disposal of water stored in tanks that is essential for steadying vessels in rough seas but has brought unwanted mussels, fish and even viruses to U.S. waters. Under the bill, approved 94-6 and sent to the House for consideration, the Environmental Protection Agency would set national rules for ballast and other water discharges while the Coast Guard would enforce them. An earlier version backed by industry would have put the Coast Guard in charge of regulation and exempted ballast from the Clean Water Act, which environmentalists feared would result in weaker requirements for treating the water before it’s released. But in a victory for shippers, states would be prohibited from imposing tougher treatment rules than EPA’s. Presently, 26 states have rules in addition to those on federal level, creating what the industry describes as a confusing regulatory patchwork. Environmentalists contend states should be able to exceed federal standards to safeguard their waterways.
The bill creates an exception for the Great Lakes, where damages and control costs from quagga mussels and other exotic organisms reach $200 million annually. Regional requirements could be imposed there if enough of the eight states that border the lakes want them.