House Passes Coast Guard Bill Containing New Ballast Rules

Unloading Ballast Water

Bill Safeguards Great Lakes From Aquatic Invasive Species

November 28, 2018

USCG emblemChicago, IL (November 28, 2018) – Last night, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the U.S. Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2017, which includes the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA). The legislation will change how ballast water and incidental discharges from ships are regulated. Ballast water discharged from ocean-going ships is the most common pathway for aquatic invasive species to enter the lakes. And vessels that operate solely within the Great Lakes, known as Lakers, move aquatic invasive species around the lakes once they arrive.

Alliance for the Great Lakes LogoPrevious versions of VIDA, championed by the shipping industry, would have significantly weakened ballast water regulations. The version of the bill passed by the House and Senate includes several important improvements that protect the Great Lakes, including the continued regulation of ballast water and incidental discharges under the Clean Water Act. However, the bill preempts states from adopting standards that are stronger than federal law, which in the past has been an important tool for states in the Great Lakes region. Current regulations and state rules will remain in place until the new federal rules are implemented under this legislation.

The same legislation was passed by the U.S. Senate on November 14 and the bill now moves to the White House for the President’s signature.

In reaction to last night’s action by the U.S. House of Representatives, Alliance for the Great Lakes Vice President for Policy Molly Flanagan released the following statement:

Invasive Species

“Last night’s vote by the U.S. House of Representatives on the U.S. Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2017, which included the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA), was the culmination of years of discussion and debate on ballast water regulations. Ballast water discharged from ships is the primary pathway for new aquatic invasive species to enter the Great Lakes. These harmful critters have caused significant ecological damage to the lakes and cost Great Lakes communities more than $200 million each year.

The shipping industry’s proposals included in prior versions of VIDA would have significantly weakened ballast water regulations and put the Great Lakes at risk. Great Lakes champions in Congress worked tirelessly to substantially improve the bill and protect the lakes. We applaud their work to protect the Great Lakes.

After the President signs this bill, we will keep a close eye on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Coast Guard as they develop and implement new standards for ballast water under the provisions of this legislation. We will fight to ensure the new rules are fully enacted and that the Great Lakes are protected.”

Summary from the American Great Lakes Ports Association

American Great Lakes Ports Assoc.The problem of aquatic nuisance species has challenged the Great Lakes region for more than 20 years. There are a number of vectors by which non-native species might enter the Great Lakes, including the ballast water of ocean-going vessels. In response to this problem, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and most Great Lakes states have established ballast water management regulations. While these rules will help protect the Great Lakes, the regulatory landscape is chaotic and threatens to impede commerce with inconsistent requirements.

Loading Ballast Water
Loading Ballast Water

When not fully loaded, cargo ships must take on water (ballast) to maintain their stability. Once pumped onboard, ballast water is stored in narrow cavities (ballast tanks) built into the hull of a ship. Ballast water pumped onboard in one port may inadvertently contain aquatic organisms that are then released when the ballast is discharged in another port. In most cases, these organisms die. However, in some cases, they thrive in the new environment, disrupting the local aquatic ecosystem. As global trade expands, concern over the movement of aquatic species is also growing. Today, aquatic nuisance species are a concern not only in the Great Lakes, but also in the Chesapeake Bay, the Gulf of Mexico, Puget Sound, San Francisco Bay and other areas. Likewise, species native to the United States are being spread to other parts of the world.

Ballast Water Management – State Regulations

In the Great Lakes region, seven of the eight states have issued their own ballast water management regulations. States took action through a number of legal authorities, including Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act. Under Section 401 states certify whether a federal Clean Water Act permit is protective of state water quality. States may exercise the right to add additional conditions to any permit. All Great Lakes states have certified the VGP and seven have added their own permit conditions.


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