The Coast Guard issued on August 28th a proposed rule for the regulation of ballast water discharges (BWD). This is the Nagging Problem (NP) that has plagued the maritime sector, particularly vessel operators. That problem is both the habitat devastation caused by non-indigenous aquatic species unwittingly carried here from foreign ports and the patchwork of regulation that can confound those responsible for ships in commerce.
Two Federal agencies claim jurisdiction. The EPA does, per the Clean Water Act, and through that several states exercise delegated authority to protect their waters. So states like California, Michigan, Washington, and New York set their own requirements for vessels to meet.
But the vessels in question don’t just putter around Lake Erie, so to speak. They transit international waters in international commerce and call in multiple ports. The proposed Coast Guard rule takes a national approach with an international foundation for starters. The proposed regs would establish a standard for allowable concentrations of organisms in BWD. The standard and schedule are consistent with the applicable IMO convention. In the next decade, the standard would tighten significantly–assuming you think 1000x is significant–if currently unavailable technology would become available. (Comments on the regulations are due November 27th.)
Still, there is that other NP. The complication of multiple standards courtesy of the states. At present Federal law doesn’t preempt non-Federal standards though that would be a good idea. Who is to say that the means to meet one standard can also satisfy a second or a third standard as a ship moves from port to port? And what if the State standard isn’t…well…carefully considered?
New York’s regulation, effective 2012, will put a ship’s pilot in violation of the law if the ship, lacking a means to meet the standard, crosses New York waters (without discharging) on its way to a terminal in New Jersey. As frustrating is the stricter-than-IMO standard for which ships must have onboard environmental technology that has yet to be devised, not to mention shown to be safe and effective. NYDEC does not allow for an absence of applicable technology. Take this enlightening discussion from The Washington Post story of August 31
Steve Fisher, executive director of the American Great Lakes Ports Association, called different regulations in each state a “nightmare scenario.” He said current technology cannot meet New York’s standards, which are 100 times stronger than the IMO treaty, and he expects that the state will have to close ports or relax its rules.
Jim Tierney, assistant commissioner for water resources at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, disagreed. “It’s not that hard to kill things,” he said. “You can heat them up, crush them, pressurize them, put a chemical on them. We think this is a problem that can be solved in a very economical fashion.”
Well, there ya go, naval architects, biologists and others who have been working this question for a good many years. Maybe it’s not so difficult after all. Maybe just a big hammer, goggles, and a trash bag will get ‘er done. Pbea