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Monday, July 15, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

EPA agrees to protect waterways from harmful ship discharges

The EPA must finalize its standards for vessel discharges by September 2024.

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) —The Environmental Protection Agency agreed Friday to finalize nationwide standards that will protect U.S. waterways from the harmful effects of discharges from ships.

Under the agreement, the EPA must release its final standards on vessel discharges by Sept. 24, 2024. The standards are required by the Clean Water Act.

The agreement is the end result of a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth this past February. In their complaint, the groups claimed that ballast water adversely affects waterways by spreading harmful zebra mussels, coral diseases and human pathogens. Both groups were represented by the Stanford Law Clinic.

"The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s failure to address pollution from oceangoing vessels as required by the Clean Water Act has caused significant harm to aquatic ecosystems. One type of vessel pollution, ballast water, is widely recognized as a major pathway for the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species and human and animal pathogens," the groups said in their complaint. "Non-native plants and animals, harmful algae, and diseases are carried in ballast water and cause great economic and environmental damage when they are subsequently released into and invade new waters."

The agreement must undergo a public review and be approved by a federal judge in the Northern District of California.

“I’m glad the EPA will take action after years of delay, and I hope the agency finally cracks down on ships that dump water with pathogens and invasive species,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This agreement is an overdue victory for our ocean ecosystems and public health, which have been plagued for years by weak rules on ballast water dumping.”

Ships take up ballast at their port of origin to improve stability. Ships then carry that water to their destinations, where it is released. This can lead to invasive species entering into non-native water ecosystems, threatening native species and the water’s quality. 

Ballast water can also release waterborne diseases into local water supplies. Poorer communities and communities with unreliable water treatment are at increased risk from introduced human pathogens.

“For decades, polluted vessel discharges have threatened the health of our waterways and all who depend on them, and their harm continues to grow,” said Marcie Keever, director of oceans and vessels at Friends of the Earth. “By holding the shipping industry to new and improved standards, EPA is finally taking a long-needed step toward protecting and preserving our waters for generations to come.”

Under the Biden administration, the release of the EPA’s final standards has been postponed repeatedly. In 2020, the EPA projected that final standards on ship vessel discharges would be published in March 2021. The agency then backtracked, and said that the publication of final standards would happen towards the end of Biden’s first term.

In June 2022, 34 members of Congress asked EPA Administrator Michael Regan to end the agency’s failure to comply with the Clean Water Act and issue ballast water discharge standards.

“The Stanford Environmental Law Clinic is pleased that EPA has agreed to enter this consent decree. Moving forward, however, it is just the first step,” said Matthew Sanders, the acting deputy director of the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic, part of the Mills Legal Clinic at Stanford Law School. “Alongside and on behalf of our clients the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth, we will continue to press EPA to satisfy its legal duty to issue robust standards for vessel incidental discharges.”

The EPA’s Office of Water did not reply to requests for comment on the agreement before deadline

Categories / Environment, Government, Health

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