Lawmakers will have to cut through a knot of "confusing, contradictory" rules to establish effective regulations controlling invasive species in ships’ ballast water for an industry facing potentially millions of dollars in new costs and the threat of closure of the St. Lawrence Seaway.
Two subcommittees of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Wednesday took testimony on the issue, and indicated it may be up to Congress to bring uniformity to what Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J., called a “confusing, contradictory and unsustainable approach.”
The U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are empowered by separate laws to regulate the ballast water. The Coast Guard has rules under review that would adopt standards of the International Maritime Organization for technologies to eliminate dangerous organisms.
While the EPA, which has authority under the Clean Water Act, is likely to accept the IMO standard, states are free to adopt more stringent standards. Twenty-nine states have done so, and vessel operators are calling for more uniformity.
New York’s ballast water standard could effectively close the St. Lawrence Seaway next year if vessels are not equipped with treatment equipment that can meet its standard, which is 1,000 times more stringent than the IMO standard.
Witnesses said uniform standards are necessary, but the costs of compliance are high and the Coast Guard has yet to approve any systems for treating ballast water.
Vice Adm. Brian Salerno, Coast Guard vice commandant for operations, said buying and installing ballast water treatment equipment on a large ship could cost $4.3 million.
Thomas Allegretti, president of the American Waterways Operators, said installing treatment equipment on tow boats could average $900,000, more than twice the cost of a new barge.
There would be “national jubilation” if the government were to establish uniform ballast water treatment standards, Allegretti said, but preemption of states’ regulatory authority was a politically sensitive subject.
“In the case of interstate commerce, it’s very clear in the Constitution and 200 years of case law that there are a small number of areas where the national interest trumps state law, and this is one of them,” Allegretti said.
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