Docket No. EPA–HQ–OW–2019–0482, Vessel Incidental Discharge National Standards of Performance

November 24, 2020

Mr. Jack Faulk
Oceans and Coastal Management Branch (4504T)
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20460

Ref: Docket No. EPA–HQ–OW–2019–0482, Vessel Incidental Discharge National Standards of Performance


Dear Mr. Faulk:

The Great Lakes Maritime Task Force (GLMTF) is the largest labor/management coalition ever assembled to promote waterborne commerce on the “Fourth Sea Coast.” Our 79 members from 11 states and the District of Columbia, see below, represent every facet of Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway shipping in every Great Lakes State and others in our nation.

Regarding this Proposed Rule: Vessel Incidental Discharge National Standards of Performance, please accept the following GLMTF comments.

Thank you for your consideration.


John E. Clemons, American Maritime Officers, AFL-CIO
GLMTF President

James H.I. Weakley, Lake Carriers’ Association
GLMTF 1st Vice President – Membership

John D. Baker, ILA-Local 1317
GLMTF 2nd Vice President – Positions & Resolutions

Richard Hammer, Donjon Shipbuilding and Repair
GLMTF 3rd Vice President – Government Relations

GLMTF membership includes:

ILLINOIS: ArcelorMittal USA, ARTCO Chicago Drydock, Calumet River Fleeting Inc., The Chicago & Great Lakes Port Council, CN, Illinois International Port District, Int’l Union of Operating Engineers – Local 150, LafargeHolcim.

INDIANA: Central Marine Logistics, Inc., Ports of Indiana.

KANSAS: International Brotherhood of Boilermakers.

MARYLAND: Transportation Institute.

MICHIGAN: Consumers Energy, Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority, Dock 63 Inc., DTE Energy, Durocher Marine, Edw. C. Levy Co., Grand River Navigation, IAMAW District Lodge 60, International Ship Masters’ Association, The King Co. Inc., Lake Michigan Carferry Service, Inc., Lakes Pilots Association, Luedtke Engineering Company, MCM Marine, Inc., Michigan Maritime Trades Port Council, Pere Marquette Shipping Company, Port of Monroe, Ryba Marine Construction Co., Seafarers International Union, Soo Marine Supply, Inc., Verplank Dock Co., West Michigan Dock and Market – Port of Muskegon, Western Great Lakes Pilots Association.

MINNESOTA: Duluth Seaway Port Authority, Great Lakes Fleet.

MONTANA: Montana Coal Council.

NEW YORK: American Steamship Company, St. Lawrence Seaway Pilot’s Association.

OHIO: AK Steel Corporation, American Maritime Officers, AFL-CIO, Cleveland-Cliffs Inc., Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority, Consumer Energy Alliance, CSX Transportation, Toledo Docks, Faulkner, Hoffman & Phillips, LLC, Great Lakes District Council, ILA, AFL-CIO, The Great Lakes Towing Company, IAMAW Local Lodge 1943, ILA Lake Erie Coal & Ore Dock Council, ILA Local 1317, ILA Local 1768, The Interlake Steamship Company, International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots, AFL-CIO, Lake Carriers’ Association, Lorain Port Authority, Osborne Concrete & Stone Co., Tata Steel, Toledo Port Council MTD, AFL-CIO, United Steelworkers, District 1, AFL-CIO-CLC, United Steelworkers, Local 5000.

PENNSYLVANIA: Carmeuse Lime, Inc., Donjon Shipbuilding & Repair, LLC, IAMAW District Lodge 98, United States Steel Corporation.

WASHINGTON, DC: American Great Lakes Ports Association, American Maritime Officers Service, K&L Gates, LLP, Marine Engineers' Beneficial Association, AFL-CIO.

WISCONSIN: Bay Shipbuilding Company, Brown County Port & Resource Recovery Dept., Fraser Shipyards, Inc., Hallett Dock 8 LLC, Midwest Energy Resources Company, Roen Salvage Company.

GLMTF is in support of:

  • Exempting vessels operating exclusively on the Laurentian Great Lakes from having to meet a numeric ballast water discharge standard (BWDS);
  • All vessels that enter the Laurentian Great Lakes from east of Anticosti Island flush and/or exchange their ballast water to meet a minimum 30 parts per thousand of salinity in their ballast tanks; and
  • Discontinuing certain best management practices (BMPs) that are difficult or impractical to perform.

Exempting Lakers from meeting a numeric BWDS: Vessels operating exclusively on the Great Lakes face many operational and environmental challenges not seen elsewhere in the U.S. or abroad. Great Lakes waters are “fresher” than most waters where commercial navigation occurs. They are colder for significant portions of the year than any ballast water management system (BWMS) has been tested in for U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) or International Maritime Organization (IMO) type-approval. All five Great Lakes, their tributaries, and connecting channels are subject to annual freezing at both the start and end of the navigation season, March 25 until January 15, timed to the opening and closing of the navigational locks at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Turbidity and suspended solids in ports and commercial docks, particularly in the lower lakes where ballast water loading occurs, have sediment loads as much as 40 times higher than the “challenge” conditions required for USCG and IMO BWMS type-approval testing.

Vessels operating exclusively on the Laurentian Great Lakes, known as “Lakers,” and in particular the U.S.-flag fleet of Lakers, have unique operating requirements necessary to support their nine-and-a-half month sailing season while supplying a full year’s worth of cargo to customers. These vessels, including self-propelled and articulated tug and barge units, are typically self-unloading at high rates of cargo discharge requiring high rates of ballast water loading. Their ballast tanks and integrating components such as pumps and piping, are not coated or otherwise treated to avoid the deleterious impacts of corrosion from saltwater or oxidizing chemicals. They have significantly shorter voyages measured in hours and days rather than the weeks of oceangoing vessels. Lakers have very little available space with which to add one, two, or as many as 18 separate BWMS, depending upon each vessel’s configuration. Quite often they do not have the available surplus power to run a BWMS.

Economically, the costs of installing BWMSs on U.S.-flag Lakers, in particular, are astronomical. The 2017 Choice Ballast Solutions’ study, “Technical Engineering Analysis and Economic Feasibility Study for Ballast Water Management System Installation and Operation on board U.S.-flag Great Lakes Fleet” (EPA Docket Number EPA-HQ-OW-2019-0482-0485) puts the acquisition and installation cost at $639 million for the fleet with the costs as much as $36 million for a single vessel and annual operating and maintenance costs at $11 million. GLMTF does not see that the costs of installing and running a BWMS are justified for technology not tested in the Great Lakes, not designed for Lakers, and not proven to meet the national BWDS.

Ballast water exchange and flushing for oceangoing vessels entering the Laurentian Great Lakes: As widely accepted, before 2006 the single largest threat of introduction of aquatic non-native species into the Great Lakes were the organisms still living in the ballast water of oceangoing vessels coming from foreign ports. In 2006, the exchange and flushing of their ballast water in the open ocean with high salinity water before they entered the Exclusive Economic Zones of the U.S. and Canada was mandated. To verify and document compliance, the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation (SLSDC) and U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) began a program of inspecting all vessels documented to have arrived from ports east of Anticosti Island at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, the so-called “Laker line” which delineates vessels operating exclusively in the Laurentian Great Lakes from oceangoing vessels that arrived from points east of this demarcation. SLSDC states:

“The effectiveness of the BWWG (Ballast Water Working Group) and the Seaway’s ballast water inspection program has been publicly credited as a key factor in preventing the discovery of establishment of any new species in the Great Lakes Seaway System since 2006 – the longest such period of non-detection on record.”1

Exchange and flushing is based on the principle of osmotic stress, or “salinity shock,” of organisms, particularly aquatic non-native species, that live in fresh or brackish water and therefore may have the potential to survive and even thrive in the Great Lakes. This practice is shown to be over 99 percent effective and has resulted in no new known aquatic non-native species having been introduced or otherwise established in the Great Lakes since 2006.2

Maintaining this program of flushing and exchanging ballast water for all vessels that enter the Laurentian Great Lakes is imperative even if these oceangoing vessels are operating a BWMS.

Discontinuing certain ballast water management practices: GLMTF concurs that the practices listed at VIII.B.1.iv.H, Best Management Practices Not Continued from Existing Requirements, are not really implementable either because of safety issues or operational impracticalities and should therefore be discontinued.

GLMTF is in opposition to:

  • Off-vessel options for the management of ballast water, including offloading to treatment works or the loading of potable water;
  • Granting vessels that operate primarily but not exclusively in the Great Lakes Laker status; and
  • An annual requirement for the self-assessment of the factors impacting and the options for ballast water treatment.

Off-vessel options for the management of ballast water: Hull and Associates’ study “Preliminary Coast Estimate for the: Shoreside Ballast Treatment and Supply for the U.S. Great Lakes. Dublin, Ohio” (EPA Docket Number EPA-HQ-OW-2019-0482-0494) put the cost of a system of potable water treatment works, wastewater facilities, and barge-based options at $11 billion, $34 billion time weighted, and $575 million in annual operation and maintenance costs. This was just for the U.S. side of the Great Lakes. For a system to be functional it would have to be fully implemented on the Canadian side of the lakes as well to handle the significant cross-lake/bi-national vessel traffic and trade. These costs would have to be paid by someone and that would obviously fall on the fleets sailing the Great Lakes and their customers. Additionally, the timeline to build out this system would be measured in decades.

In the Choice Ballast Solutions study (EPA Docket Number EPA-HQ-OW-2019-0482-0485), they calculated the cost to modify the U.S.-flag Laker fleet to connect with such off-vessel options for ballast water management at $68 million with a single vessel costing as much as $4 million.

Creating this inter-lake, interstate, and binational system would not necessarily eliminate the need for a vessel to install a BWMS. For a vessel to use a system reliant on loading potable water for ballast, the tanks must be cleaned of all non-potable water and sediment before its first use. This assumes that all voyages load ballast water at a dock where cargo is off-loaded and then sails to the next port without ballasting to load cargo and off-load ballast water. It does happen, but not all the time. Weather and fluctuating water levels during a voyage can require Lakers to ballast mid-voyage to adjust trim and depth. Any lake water that might be brought in for that adjustment would thereby “contaminate” the entire contents and would have to be treated upon release either to a wastewater treatment facility, a barge-mounted system, or an onboard BWMS that would inevitably have to be installed as a redundancy. Off-vessel options for the management of ballast water are not realistic.

Granting Laker status for vessels operating primarily but not exclusively on the Great Lakes: U.S. EPA has asked for comment regarding vessels that operate “primarily but not exclusively on the Laurentian Great Lakes.” The idea is that there is the possibility that vessels that sail east of Anticosti Island, therefore outside the Laurentian Great Lakes and the current demarcation between Laker and oceangoing vessels, could be granted the status of a Laker and therefore avoid treating or otherwise managing their ballast water taken aboard at ports in the Arctic and/or Canadian and U.S. east coasts. This is a bad idea. Since 2006, all vessels and all their ballast tanks have been inspected by the SLSDC before they are allowed to enter the Great Lakes. See remarks above. This would set in regulation a loophole in prevention. The exchange of ballast water and flushing of ballast tanks for all vessels entering the Laurentian Great Lakes is the best weapon in a limited arsenal of defense in protecting our Great Lakes.

Removing this exchange and flushing of ballast water requirement for any vessels that sail outside the Laurentian Great Lakes has the potential to re-open the door to aquatic non-native species or more devastatingly, species that could become invasive, replacing native Great Lakes organisms and fundamentally changing the Great Lakes ecology much as Zebra and Quagga mussels have since their introduction into the Great Lakes as ballast water stowaways on vessels from the Ponto-Caspian Region in the 1980s.

In addition, as the program for self-assessment is proposed (see below), it is only requiring those Lakers operating exclusively on the Great Lakes to participate. This leaves an even larger hole in the regulations as not only will those vessels operating primarily but not exclusively on the Great Lakes not have to treat or exchange their ballast water, they also would not have to perform this self-assessment. This is potentially an incentive to have vessels capable of sailing beyond Anticosti Island to do so at least once a year to avoid the self-assessment.

GLMTF strongly urges U.S. EPA that granting Laker status to vessels that operate primarily but not exclusively on the Great Lakes is the wrong direction in the protection of the Great Lakes from the introduction of aquatic non-native species.

Requirement for annual self-assessment for Lakers: While GLMTF believes that periodic fleet-wide assessments of options for the management of ballast water may be beneficial, an annual requirement for these self-assessments is burdensome and will not provide sufficient new information year-over-year to justify the time and expense. GLMTF requests that should U.S. EPA move forward with a requirement for vessels operating exclusively on the Laurentian Great Lakes to perform these self-assessments, that a 5-year cycle would be more appropriate.

U.S. EPA has said during public presentations of this proposed rule that this program is modeled along the lines of a similar requirement by Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in their current State Disposal System Vessel Discharge Permit, No. MNG300000, in Sections 1.1.13 through 1.1.19, Ballast Water Treatability Study. Section 1.1.12 sets the reporting cycle for a self-assessment to a five-year period and aligned with a vessel’s scheduled dry-docking. Additionally, USCG type-approval certificates for BWMSs are good for five years, which presumes that significant breakthroughs in treatment technologies are not tied to annual leaps but rather that five-year cycle. Lastly, in Section 312(p) in paragraph (4)(D)(i), the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA) sets the review period for the national standards of performance at five years.

As far as Lakers, particularly U.S.-flag Lakers, little changes happen year-to-year whether operationally, structurally, or mechanically. For the most part, even with a five-year cycle, not much will change. Trade routes in the Great Lakes for Lakers are similar to those that have been in place for over 100 years. The “upper lakes” trade is still a keystone voyage for the fleet. Taconite and western coal are loaded on Lakers in western Lake Superior and shipped to ports in Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio then the Lakers return in ballast to ports in western Lake Superior. In 2019, 60 million tons of the 90 million tons shipped on U.S.-flag Lakers that year was this trade. It is rare that a new product or trade route is injected into the system. The U.S.-flag Great Lakes fleet have vessels built in the early 1900s that still sail the lakes. The majority of these vessels were built between the 1950s and 1980s. Upgrades, modifications, or any other changes of U.S.-flag Lakers will mostly likely not yield significant new information of value in determining the availability and suitability of BWMS for Lakers.

GLMTF requests that if U.S. EPA pursues a self-assessment program by the operators of Lakers, a five-year cycle is more in line with the practicalities of technology advancement, operational status of Lakers, and the spirit of VIDA.


1 Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation. Fiscal Year 2019 Annual Report. Washington, DC.

2 Reid, David. The Role of Osmotic Stress (Salinity Shock) in Protecting the Great Lakes from Ballast-Associated Aquatic Invaders. Prepared for the SLSDC. November 30, 2012.