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LANSING, Mich.--The Environmental Protection Agency will establish standards for ballast water discharges in U.S. lakes, under a settlement announced by environmental groups and Michigan agencies, which had sued EPA over its permitting policy for oceangoing ships entering the Great Lakes and other waterways (Natural Resources Defense Council v. EPA, D.C. Cir., No. 09-1089, consolidated with Nos. 09-1131, 1135, 1162 & 1163, 3/8/11).
The agreement, filed March 8 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, calls for EPA to issue by Nov. 30, 2012, new permitting standards under its vessel general permit (VGP). The standards, authorizing the types of discharges ships are permitted, would be effective Dec. 19, 2013, when the current VGP expires. A draft rule for publication in the Federal Register must be approved by Nov. 30.
EPA agreed, among other things, to produce scientific reports on ballast discharge technologies and approaches, which will be used in developing the new standards; to provide states with information about the development of the rule; and to facilitate regional communication about ballast water regulation. The reports are expected by May 31, according to Michigan officials.
The Natural Resources Defense Council and the state of Michigan filed a joint motion with the D.C. Circuit, requesting that the court hold their consolidated cases in abeyance until the settlement is terminated, either because the terms of the agreement have been fulfilled or because the plaintiffs have chosen to reactivate the litigation.
Michigan, which has its own rule limiting ballast water discharges, said EPA's current standard allows ships to use an “inadequate” treatment process and that the Great Lakes are at risk of contamination from water dumped in accordance with less stringent regulations of other states. “The Great Lakes define the state of Michigan,” Gov. Rick Snyder (R) said in a March 8 statement announcing the settlement. “But our waters are now home to more than 180 aquatic invaders, introduced and spread by unregulated ballast water. I urge the EPA to move swiftly on plans to offer a long-term protection strategy for the Great Lakes.”
“Until this point, EPA's permit has left an open door to new invasions from ballast water dumping,” said Thom Cmar, attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the groups that brought suit against the EPA. “This settlement should prompt EPA to treat 'living pollution’ as aggressively as it would an oil spill or toxic release. With aquatic invasions occurring all over the country, from the Chesapeake Bay to the Great Lakes to San Francisco Bay, this action is long overdue.”
Other parties to the settlement were the Indiana Wildlife Federation, the League of Ohio Sportsmen, the Minnesota Conservation Federation, the Prairie Rivers Network, the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, the Alliance for the Great Lakes, the Ohio Environmental Council, Northwest Environmental Advocates, the Center for Biological Diversity, and People for Puget Sound.
The NRDC settlement with EPA in Natural Resources Defense Council Inc. v. EPA is available at http://op.bna.com/env.nsf/r?Open=jsun-8esmbv; the Michigan settlement is at http://op.bna.com/env.nsf/r?Open=jsun-8esmpt.
The joint motion for abeyance in is available at http://op.bna.com/env.nsf/r?Open=jsun-8esmau.
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