SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — Environmentalists claim the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has failed to release new national standards that would protect U.S. waterways from harmful vessel discharges.
The Center for Biological Diversity and the nonprofit Friends of the Earth sued the agency in federal court Monday, claiming discharges from boats and ships contaminate waters and threaten ecosystems, public health and economies.
In the 13-page complaint, the groups claim vessel pollutants spread harmful zebra mussels, coral diseases and even human pathogens. Ships regularly take up ballast water at their origins to improve stability, which can contain animals, plants and other organisms. The water is carried to different destinations and released, sending foreign species into new aquatic ecosystems. Some of these now-invasive species threaten native organisms and water quality.
The plaintiffs say that communities with unreliable water treatment systems, especially low-income areas, may also be at heightened risk from foreign human pathogens introduced into their areas.
"Plaintiffs’ members regularly derive professional, aesthetic, spiritual, recreational, economic, conservation, educational, and other benefits from the natural habitats and wildlife that live in areas adversely impacted by aquatic invasive species, ballast water pollution, and other vessel discharges and intend to continue doing so in the future," the coalition says in its complaint. "The interests of plaintiffs’ members in the species, areas and water bodies impacted by ballast water and other vessel discharges are and will be directly, adversely, and irreparably affected by defendants’ violations of the law."
Miyoko Sakashita, oceans program director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement the EPA has done nothing about the issue for years.
“The EPA has looked the other way for years as ships from all over the world dump disease-causing pathogens and invasive organisms that harm our waters and communities," Sakashita said. "Pollutants and invasive species like the invasive overbite clam are threats that demand action, and it’s absurd that the EPA has abdicated its duty for so long and neglected to set firm limits on ballast water.”
According to the plaintiffs, the EPA has a track record of ignoring vessel pollution. In the past, courts have rejected the “inadequate vessel discharge standards.” Congress required the agency to establish new vessel discharge standards, including standards to control ballast water pollution, by Dec. 4, 2020.
But the groups say the Biden administration has repeatedly postponed the release of those final standards. In fall 2020, the EPA projected that the standards would be published in March 2021. However, the agency now says that release will not happen until near the end of Biden’s term.
“(The) EPA was given an exceedingly generous timeline to comply with the law and issue meaningful regulations on vessel discharge,” said Hallie Templeton, legal director for Friends of the Earth. “It is clear that litigation is the only remaining tactic to force the agency to act. We hope today’s lawsuit will finally get EPA’s attention and begin forging a real path toward protecting ecosystems and nearby communities from this dangerous form of unregulated pollution.”
In June 2022, 34 members of Congress asked to end the agency's 50-year failure to comply with the Clean Water Act and issue the ballast water discharge standards. By September, environmental groups filed a notice of intent to sue the EPA over its failure to regulate ballast water. And this past November, 180 environmental, public health and fishing organizations and Native American tribes asked Biden to order the agency to follow the law. The Biden administration has not responded to either letter, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
“The EPA's repeated moving of the goalposts has kept weak and unlawful standards in place. Today's lawsuit is intended to force the agency to stop delaying and issue its final standards,” the center added in a statement.
The plaintiffs want a federal judge to declare the agency has failed to finalize federal performance standards for vessel discharges and violated the Clean Water Act, and to order the feds to set those standards within 60 days of the declaratory judgment along with any other appropriate relief.
The EPA did not respond to a request for comment before deadline.
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