US court orders government to rewrite ballast water rulebook

The U.S. Court of Appeals’ 2nd Circuit has ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to rewrite rules governing the discharge of ballast water by ships, ruling in favour of four environmentalist groups who sued the agency over concerns that the current rules are ineffective and do not protect U.S. waters.

Northwest Environmental Advocates, the Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council and National Wildlife Federation said that EPA had failed in its responsibility under the Clean Water Act to protect U.S. waters from aquatic invasive species introduced by ship’s ballast water discharge.

The groups sued the EPA over the agency’s 2013 ballast water permit, which limits the amount of live, biological pollution ships can discharge into U.S. waters. The court ruled that EPA was wrong in deciding to follow an international standard for ballast water treatment, choosing to ignore the technology available at the time which could have enabled a higher safety standard.

The court also argued that EPA should have considered onshore facilities to process ballast water instead of focusing solely on pollution control onboard ships.

The current permit, as conservation groups requested in their lawsuit, will stay in effect until the EPA releases a new permit.

“The court understood the real world implications of EPA’s failure, the incredible economic and environmental expense of invasive species that this EPA permit allows the shipping industry to release upon the waters of the United States,” said Nina Bell, executive director of the Oregon-based Northwest Environmental Advocates.

“The court ruled against EPA on nearly all grounds, establishing that the Clean Water Act cannot be addressed through a series of bureaucratic checklists that fail to provide real protection to the nation’s waters.” 

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