Uniform Regulation of Ballast Water

GOAL: Ballast water regulations that are protective of the environment, maintain efficient waterborne commerce on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway, and are binationally compatible.

BACKGROUND: Vessel discharges, such as ballast water, are critical to maintain safe and efficient operations. The maritime industry has a long history of establishing best management practices and technical innovations to ensure the Great Lakes ecosystem is protected. However, ensuing legal battles opened the door for each state and multiple federal agencies to establish their own regulatory regimes that were sometimes impossible to meet and often conflicting. Great Lakes stakeholders pushed for a better way.

The Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA), included in the Frank LoBiondo Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2018, establishes that long-sought process on the U.S. side of the Lakes to re-establish uniform federal discharge requirements jointly regulated by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG).

VIDA promises to end the years of the sometimes contentious debate over regulation of vessel discharges, in particular, ballast water.

However, Canada threw the proverbial monkey wrench into the works, striking out in their own direction to not only differently regulate ballast water on their side of the Lakes but to effectively penalize U.S.-flag operators to the exclusive benefit of their own fleet. Their long-awaited draft regulations on ballast water were published on June 8, 2019, and propose a standard, quite unlike anywhere else in the world, that mandates installing equipment on a vessel whether it will meet discharge standards or not. Studies have shown these ballast water management systems are a huge financial burden, operationally impractical, and unsuitable for use in the Great Lakes. Outfitting the U.S.-flag Great Lakes fleet could cost $639 million, $11 million in annual operation and maintenance costs, and still not work in the Great Lakes. Forcing this equipment on vessels without any demonstrable evidence of effectiveness is absurd.

ACTION: Work with the U.S. EPA, USCG, the eight Great Lakes states, and other stakeholders to develop federal vessel discharge regulations for the Great Lakes authorized in the VIDA. Work with our federal partners to realign the Canadian regulations and make them fair and compatible with U.S. requirements.