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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Ballast Water Management to Combat Invasive Species

Eugene H. Buck
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy

The 112th Congress may consider legislation to amend and reauthorize the Nonindigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act of 1990 to further study vessel ballast water management standards and modify how ballast water is handled.

In recent years, people have become increasingly aware that the globalization of trade, the increased speed of travel, the massive volume of cargo shipments, and rising tourism have combined to increase the chance of accidental introductions of foreign species into the United States. Aquatic species arrive through a variety of mechanisms—unintentionally when attached to vessel hulls or carried in vessel ballast water and intentionally when imported for aquaria display, as live seafood for human consumption, or as a transplant to increase sport fishing opportunities.

The arrival of zebra mussels in the Great Lakes and their subsequent damage to city water supplies and electric utilities focused significant attention on ballast water discharge by cargo ships as a high-risk mechanism for species invasion. New management efforts attempt to address this concern.

On March 23, 2012, the U.S. Coast Guard published a final rule establishing quantitative standards for ballast water treatment. The new standards initially follow standards developed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO). In a subsequent phase, the quantitative standards would become much more stringent, given sufficient technological development to support achievement of the higher standards. The Coast Guard standards do not preempt existing state ballast water management standards.

In response to litigation, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published regulations on December 28, 2008, to regulate ballast water discharge under the Clean Water Act through vessel general permits (VGPs). Environmental groups expressed concern over the effectiveness of the EPA regulations and filed a court challenge. In a March 2011 settlement, EPA was required to revise its VGP program to require numeric limits on organisms in ballast water discharges as well as additional monitoring and reporting of vessel discharges. Under the terms of this settlement, EPA proposed two new VGP programs on November 30, 2011. Meanwhile, P.L. 110-299 provided a two-year moratorium from the VGP program for commercial fishing vessels and nonrecreational vessels less than 79 feet in length, and the 111th Congress enacted legislation (P.L. 111-215) to further extend this moratorium through December 18, 2013. EPA expects to take final action on the draft permits by November 30, 2012.

In addition to federal programs and sometimes in response to perceived deficiencies in federal regulation, several states have chosen to regulate aspects of ballast water management. Concerns have arisen over particularly stringent state ballast water regulations as to whether the technology exists to meet their standards. In the 112th Congress, Section 459 of H.R. 2584, as reported by the House Committee on Appropriations, would prohibit EPA from providing funds to any Great Lakes state that has a more stringent performance or ballast water exchange standard than either a revised Coast Guard standard or the IMO standard.

This report provides background on various approaches to ballast water management and reviews current ballast water management laws and programs. This report will be updated as this issue evolves.

Date of Report: April 10, 2012
Number of Pages: 16
Order Number: RL32344
Price: $29.95

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