Joint statement from the Alliance for the Great Lakes, the Environmental Law and Policy Center and the National Wildlife Federation regarding the Environmental Protection Agency’s supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking under the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act
Chicago, IL (October 17, 2023) – In 2018, Congress enacted the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act of 2018 (VIDA) and directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish national standards for vessel discharges, such as ballast water. The purpose of the statute is to protect the natural environment and the surrounding communities and economies from the introduction of aquatic invasive species or harmful pathogens that might be released or transported from vessels. In October 2020, EPA released its proposed draft VIDA rules, which we, and many others, found to be severely deficient in that they did not protect the environment and arbitrarily excluded “Lakers” (vessels that do not leave the Great Lakes) from regulation.
Today, in response to public comments and concerns expressed about the draft rule, EPA released a supplemental notice of proposed VIDA rulemaking with additional regulatory options that EPA is now considering to regulate the discharge of ballast water in the Great Lakes.
EPA proposes to create a new regulatory subcategory for “New Lakers” and is considering imposing a regulatory requirement for “New Lakers” to install, operate, and maintain ballast water management systems to reduce the level of discharges of harmful aquatic organisms into the Great Lakes. New Lakers are rarely built. The Mark W. Barker Laker was launched in 2022, and it was the first Laker built and launched in more than 35 years. EPA proposes to continue to exempt existing Lakers that can spread invasive species throughout the Great Lakes.
In response to EPA’s supplemental proposed rulemaking, for which EPA is seeking public comment by December 18, 2023, Alliance for the Great Lakes Chief Operating Officer Molly Flanagan said, “The Alliance appreciates that EPA is considering regulating ballast water discharges from New Lakers. However, the proposed rule would continue the ballast water treatment exemption for existing Lakers, leaving the Great Lakes at risk. The proposal falls far short of the level of environmental protection that is needed to protect the Great Lakes.”
“The EPA proposed standard will not adequately protect the Great Lakes and other U.S. waters from ballast water invaders,” said Marc Smith, policy director for the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes office. “The EPA’s failure to protect water quality and wildlife by exempting Lakers (ships that do not leave the Great Lakes) leaves the door open for future harm to outdoor recreation, our economy and quality of life.”
Howard Learner, the Environmental Law & Policy Center’s (ELPC) Executive Director, said: “Protecting the Great Lakes from invasive species and plants requires effective EPA standards for ballast water discharges from “Lakers”. The EPA’s long-awaited proposed standards repeat the historic failure to apply fair regulatory standards to old highly-polluting coal plants, which then kept running for years harming our environment and public health. The EPA now, again, largely exempts existing Lakers ships that are harming the Great Lakes in hopes that new Lakers sometimes will be cleaner. That failed approach will predictably lock in more old Lakers ships running longer, polluting, and causing damage to the Great Lakes for many years instead of phasing them out quickly and encouraging new Lakers ships with cleaner technology sooner. ELPC will join our Great Lakes protection partners in submitting comments to the EPA, which hopefully will correct this fundamental flaw in its final standards. The public and the Great Lakes deserve better.”
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