Friday, April 01, 2005

Invasive Species and Ballast Water: A Court Victory

A federal court in California has ruled that EPA will have to regulate the discharge of ballast water from ships in an effort to prevent invasive species from taking hold. Ballast water was the likely means of transport for zebra mussels and for Asian shore crabs. Asian shore crabs have had a devastating effect on Long Island Sound (although if you think we have problems, 99 percent of all the living organisms in San Francisco Bay are non-native).

According to the Ocean Conservancy, which was a plaintiff in the lawsuit, EPA will have to issue permits under the Clean Water Act for ballast water that contains living organisms. As I noted the other day when I wrote about Art Glowka and his jar of crabs, as many as 700 foreign vessels a year make calls at Sound ports. Presumably some high percentage (maybe 100?) discharges ballast water in the Sound.

A Sphere reader forwarded me an e-mail from the Ocean Conservancy that summarizes the court decision:

Big CWA victory - The Ocean Conservancy, Northwest Environmental Advocates, Waterkeepers Northern California, San Francisco Baykeeper, and Deltakeeper won a positive ruling in our suit petitioning EPA to regulate the discharge of ballast water (containing invasive species and other pollutants) under the Clean Water Act. Invasive species are the number two threat to biodiversity world wide, second only to habitat loss. They have crippled many marine and freshwater ecosystems. Unlike many conventional pollutants, the introduction of invasive species often has irreversible consequences. This ruling is a big deal because the discharge of ships ballast water is the single largest vector for the spread of aquatic invasive species. Requiring ships to regulate their discharges through the Clean Water Act permit system will greatly reduce the opportunities for invasives to spread.

This will likely have implications for impending federal legislation to regulate invasive species. A bill regulating ballast has been introduced in the Senate, and the NAISA reauthorizations (which look at ballast and other vectors for invasives) were expected next week on both the House and Senate

Here's the Ocean Conservancy's website, but I don't see news of the decision on it yet.


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