On June 23, 2022, thirty-four members of the House of Representatives and 74 organizations submitted a letter to the head of the US Environmental Protection Agency requesting the agency to establish discharge standards for ships' ballast water that comply with the Clean Water Act.
The letter, drafted by Representative Jared Huffman (CA-02), states that EPA's failure to set effective discharge limits "has resulted in billions of dollars of environmental damage in marine, estuarine, and fresh waters of the United States." The letter calls on the EPA to take immediate action to set discharge standards "based on the best available technology as required under the Clean Water Act."
Switzer Fellow Andrew Cohen worked with Representative Huffman to organize the campaign. View the letter and signatures in this press release by Representative Huffman.
Ballast water, which is carried by ships to adjust buoyancy and trim, is the primary mechanism introducing new invasive species and foreign pathogens into US waters. Ballast water discharges pose environmental and public health risks, and impose substantial costs on industries such as water and power utilities, commercial and recreational fisheries, aquaculture, agriculture, and tourism.
For 36 years after the Clean Water Act was enacted, EPA illegally exempted ballast water discharges from regulation. When ordered by the courts to regulate ballast discharges, EPA repeatedly set discharge standards that the courts found failed to comply with the Act. Now EPA is proposing to re-issue the same inadequate standards that the courts have already rejected.
Ballast discharges cause damage in myriad ways, all across America. Zebra Mussels and Quagga Mussels introduced into the Great Lakes clogged and blocked pipelines supplying drinking water to cities and cooling water to power plants, fouled boats and ships, and accumulated on navigational buoys until they sank them; when the mussels died, their sharp shells and rotting tissues piled up on beaches. Economic damages were estimated in the billions. The mussels then spread throughout much of the United States.
The Asian Shore Crab was introduced to the Atlantic Coast in ballast water and now ranges from Maine to North Carolina. Over much of that area it has become the most abundant crab on rocky shores, displacing other crabs and preying on intertidal organisms. On the Pacific Coast the European Green Crab, which may have been introduced in ballast water, spread from California to British Columbia and threatens oyster farms and other aquaculture.
Along the Gulf Coast and in Long Island Sound, two pandemic strains of pathogenic bacteria introduced in ballast discharges were found in fish and shellfish. The sale and shipment of contaminated oysters sickened residents in 15 states. In addition, scientists from the Centers for Disease Control warned that ballast water could introduce the 8th pandemic strain of cholera into the United States.