Commercial Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (CVIDA): good for the environment, good for the economy
I think it safe to say everyone agrees the discharge of ballast water has introduced non-native species to ports and harbors worldwide and more must be done to stop future invasions. Unfortunately, beyond that, there’s less agreement, much less. As a result, here in the United States
we have two federal agencies, the U.S. Coast Guard
(USCG) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), plus, at last count, 25 states regulating discharges incidental to the normal operation of vessels, 16 of which are specific to ballast water. That’s a recipe for confusion and all that follows, if ever there was one.
A legislative fix to this patchwork system of regulation almost passed during the 114th Congress. We can lament an opportunity missed, but the better course of action is to rejoin the battle, and we have with the Commercial Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (CVIDA [S. 168/H.R. 1154]). Like the previous legislation, it imposes the most stringent ballast water discharge standard currently achievable on commercial vessels, but equally important, provides vessel operators the assurance that the USCG type-approved ballast water management system (BWMS) they install will be approved for ports from Duluth/Superior to New Orleans, from Seattle to Boston, and all points in-between.
CVIDA’s greatest strength is that the USCG is the lead agency. It has been enforcing federal vessel pollution laws much longer than the EPA has been in existence. It has far more field enforcement personnel familiar with vessel discharges than the EPA and is the only U.S. federal or state agency that is certifying BWMS as meeting any discharge standard. What is perhaps most telling is the EPA relies on the USCG to enforce its regulations contained in their Vessel General Permit (VGP).
CVIDA’s state-of-the-art discharge standard is not static, it is dynamic, and the legislation uses risk-based science to develop what will be increasingly stringent discharge standards going forward. The USCG is tasked with determining that to meet these higher standards there must be BWMS that actually work in the commercial shipboard environment, so we won’t face unattainable standards such as cries for “1,000 times IMO” (International Maritime Organization).
As important as the Great Lakes are as an avenue for waterborne commerce, they are also the source of drinking water for 40 million North Americans, so CVIDA provides even greater protection than current federal regulations by making permanent the current temporary requirement that commercial vessels entering the system from beyond the EEZ continue to exchange ballast water at sea after they install an USCG type-approved BWMS.
Passage of CVIDA could help resolve a looming threat on the Great Lakes. The IMO’s Ballast Water Convention (BWC) was ratified in September of last year and goes into force this September. Canada, a BWC signatory, has stated its intent to impose different ballast water requirements than the USCG on U.S. vessels operating solely on the Great Lakes that transit its waters, even if they don’t call on Canadian ports. Enacting CVIDA will provide a clear and uniform U.S. system of ballast water regulation to facilitate the development of a compatible Canadian regulation.
Critics of the legislation that nearly passed during the last Congress claimed
the bill weakens protections of U.S. waters by preempting individual state’s authority to establish different rules for their waters, and we are hearing this argument again. And they will again be wrong. In addition to the continuation of ballast water exchange for the Great Lakes described above, CVIDA ensures that the states (and EPA) will be involved in the development of future discharge standards and states can request earlier and more frequent reviews of standards than they can under the VGP. States will also be able to enforce compliance with the USCG ballast water regulations should they enter into an agreement with USCG to do so.
This states’ right argument also ignores one of the fundamental reasons this nation was founded as a union of states was to provide for a single authority with the power to uniformly regulate commerce among the states and foreign nations. When federal regulation makes sense, there should be a single, uniform, nationwide regulatory approach to provide regulatory certainty for businesses engaged in, and that facilitate the flow of, interstate commerce.
Some have asked me why LCA has committed so much time and resources to the effort to pass a uniform, federal ballast water discharge standard. After all, our members’ vessels never leave the Great Lakes (most never trade farther east than Buffalo), and played no role in the introduction of the zebra mussel, the ruffe, the round goby or the other non-native species oceangoing vessels brought to the Lakes before mid-ocean ballast exchange became mandatory in 2006. The answer is very simple: LCA is committed to the Great Lakes environment and also needs consistent rules for its vessels that trade between ports in multiple states. When the ruffe was discovered in western Lake Superior in the late 1980s, it was LCA that developed a ballast water management plan for its members aimed at containing the ruffe. Launched in 1993, the plan was embraced by Canadian and third-flag operators trading to the Lakes. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared the plan “the cutting edge of technology.”
That commitment has never lessened. The Great Lakes are our livelihood, but they are also our home. They must be protected from non-native species and CVIDA is the best way to do it.
James Weakley is President of the Lake Carriers’ Association (LCA). LCA has represented operators of U.S.-Flag Vessels on the Great Lakes since 1880.