New York delaying start of ballast water discharge standard that would have been toughest in region

Stateline Midwest ~ April 2012

The state of New York has halted plans to implement a ballast water discharge standard next year that would have been the toughest in the Great Lakes region and more stringent than any existing or proposed U.S. or Canadian rules.

For Great Lakes advocates who say existing standards fall short of protecting the ecosystem from invasive species, New York’s plan had been a source of optimism.

But it also had been a source of consternation for those who said the state’s numeric discharge standard was unworkable and would have shut down Great Lakes shipping. The federal government of Canada, for example, praised New York for “withdrawing its unattainable ballast water requirements.”

New York officials say they will delay implementation of a state-level standard until at least the end of 2013. They will instead focus on working with Michigan and other states to try to convince the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to strengthen its proposed discharge permit for ballast water.

“A strong, uniform national standard is the preferred approach to ensuring that vessels install and use achievable and cost-effective technology to treat ballast water discharges,” says Joseph Martens, New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner.

As proposed, the EPA’s permit would require ships to install technology that meets the International Maritime Organization’s treatment standard for ballast water. In comparison, New York’s numeric standard would have been 100 times more stringent than the one set by the IMO. Under the EPA proposal, vessels would also have to exchange ballast water to flush out and kill non-native freshwater organisms.

Once finalized, the new EPA permit will replace an existing one that was successfully challenged in U.S. federal court as being too weak.

Some leading Great Lakes conservation groups say that even though the EPA proposal is an improvement on the existing vessel permit, it does not go nearly far enough. They are pushing the agency to adopt tougher standards. Thus far, no state has implemented a standard tougher than the IMO’s.

At the federal level, two entities have the authority to regulate ballast water discharges: the EPA and the U.S. Coast Guard. In March, the Coast Guard published its final rule establishing a new discharge standard.