Federal Action on Ballast Water Management Beginning to Heat Up

In the immediate wake of the federal court ruling that upheld Michigan’s controversial ballast water treatment law as constitutional, other federal agencies appear to be stepping up the pace in their quest to arrive at some sort of national standard on the matter. This week, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) issued a report on ballast water management to combat invasive species. The report provides background on various approaches to ballast water management and reviews current ballast water management laws and programs. Separately, the Department of the Interior (Office of the Secretary - Invasive Species Advisory Committee) published notice of public meetings of the Invasive Species Advisory Committee in the Federal Register.

The purpose of the Invasive Species Advisory Committee is to provide advice to the National Invasive Species Council, as authorized by Executive Order 13112, on a broad array of issues related to preventing the introduction of invasive species, providing for their control and minimizing their economic, ecological, and human health impacts. The Council is co-chaired by the Secretary of the Interior, the Secretary of Agriculture, and the Secretary of Commerce. The duty of the Council is to provide national leadership regarding invasive species issues. The purpose of a meeting on October 1-3, 2007 is to convene the full Advisory Committee and to discuss implementation of action items outlined in the National Invasive Species Management Plan, which was finalized on January 18, 2001.

The ruling, which came down from the U.S. District of Michigan, now opens the doors for other states to consider similar measures. Wisconsin, Minnesota and Indiana legislators have been watching from the sidelines as a lawsuit brought by nine shipping companies and trade associations played out in court last week. The shipping firms had attempted to overturn a Michigan law that requires oceangoing vessels to treat or sanitize their ballast water to prevent the introduction of invasive species to the Great Lakes.

Michigan’s decision to enact a ballast water treatment law was loudly protested at the beginning of this year, and is largely viewed as an attempt to get the federal government to act on a problem that has festered for a decade. Domestic legislation to mandate a particular standard to regulate the treatment and discharge of ballast water has long languished in Washington as the Coast Guard and EPA try to get their arms around the complicated issue.

Congress and the United States Coast Guard are currently working to formulate a national policy on the issue of invasive species and ballast water management. Eventually, the EPA could enter the game. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) already has competing standards in place (not yet formalized or ratified by all member states). Nevertheless, and despite the fact that a number of promising technologies are already being tested on vessels, standardization of rules to deal with the problem is likely at least a year away.

Shipping companies have previously been reluctant to install expensive ballast water management equipment, which ranges from $250,000 all the way to $1 million or more to purchase and install, because they could not be guaranteed that the equipment would be in compliance once the rules are in place. But programs such as the Coast Guard’s Shipboard Technology Evaluation Program (STEP) initiative may change those mindsets. In the meantime, competing and unilateral laws enacted by individual states are making the landscape for owners difficult, and in some cases even affecting commerce. STEP, on the other hand, has the potential to (a.) help technology developers test their systems and also incentivize ship operators to install equipment without fear that the equipment will be declared inadequate down the road when and if a standard is defined, and (b.) provide the Coast Guard and the general public with high-quality information and data about how the systems work and how well they achieve the desired results.

Information about the National Invasive Species Council Program:

Contact Kelsey Brantley, Analyst and ISAC Coordinator, (202) 513-7243; Fax: (202) 371-1751.

Read the Congressional Research Service Report by clicking: http://www.newsletterscience.com/marex/pdf/00000147.pdf