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Federal Government Takes Tentative Step toward Protecting Great Lakes
Late Nov. 30, the federal government took another tentative step toward protecting the Great Lakes and vulnerable coastal waters from the scourge of invasive species with proposed limitations on their chief delivery vehicle—ballast water dumping by commercial vessels. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a new national permit to deal with discharges of ballast water that are a normal part of operating freighters and other large commercial vessels. As a result of a legal settlement, that permit will limit the number of invasive species that vessels can dump in the Great Lakes and other water bodies. Unfortunately, EPA’s new limits are pegged to standards established by the International Maritime Organization, which while supported by the shipping industry, are not strict enough to prevent the introduction and spread of invasive organisms which currently cost the eight Great Lakes states more than $1 billion every five years.
"It is hard to see the movement of invasive species until it is too late,” said Thom Cmar, attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Unfortunately, out of sight, out of mind has meant that we have not dealt with the problem of ‘living pollution’ as aggressively as other environmental threats like oil spills or toxic releases. The new proposed ballast water permit is par for that course—it is a start, but nowhere near what is needed to stop these uninvited critters from sapping our most valuable water resources.”
The permit update comes on the heels of a long legal battle to force EPA to regulate ballast water under the Clean Water Act. Protective limits on invasive species in vessels’ ballast discharges are necessary to prevent the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species carried in the ballast tanks from overseas ports. Species like the zebra and quagga mussels, spiny water fleas and round gobies have all arrived to the Great Lakes via the unregulated discharge of contaminated ballast water.
“Since the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway, the Great Lakes has been ground zero for freshwater invasions from overseas vessels,” said Jennifer Nalbone, director of Navigation and Invasive Species for Great Lakes United. “The EPA’s VGP (Vessel General Permit) is a real opportunity to advance protection for the Great Lakes and the nation. After decades of painfully slow progress, our waters deserve a leap forward in protection, not a baby step.”
While the new permit represents an improvement over previous versions, conservation groups and scientists are concerned that the weak international standards are not strict enough to prevent the next major invasive species threat. International Maritime Organization ballast water standards are not scientifically based and offer only a marginal improvement over the current practice of flushing ballast tanks with saltwater.
The federal Clean Water Act requires EPA to give states an opportunity to add requirements to the proposed permit if the states find that more stringent provisions are necessary to protect against vessels’ pollution. The states of New York and California have already adopted far more stringent standards, based on their own scientific determinations that anything less protective would leave their waters vulnerable to new species invasions. As part of EPA’s permit update, all of the states will have the opportunity to decide whether they will adopt their own more stringent ballast water standards. In addition, the Coast Guard has finally sent its final rule-making to set standards for living organisms in ships’ ballast water to the Office of Budget and Management. By contrast, recent legislation passed by the U.S. House of Representatives would also adopt the weak International Maritime Organization ballast water standards, but it would do so while also eliminating EPA’s authority to require more protections under the Clean Water Act, as well as states’ authority to create more stringent requirements under tougher state laws.
“The proposed EPA permit is a step in the right direction, but it still doesn’t shut the door on invasive species,” said Andy Buchsbaum, director of the National Wildlife Federation-Great Lakes Program Office. “On the positive side, it sets numerical limits for ballast water discharges and maintains the rights of states to add additional protections. But EPA’s proposed standard still allows the discharge of invasive organisms into the Great Lakes and the nation’s waters at significant levels. That’s simply not acceptable.”
EPA will entertain public comments on the draft permit for 75 days, before finalizing the permit in late 2012. Conservation groups will submit written comments to EPA urging the permit be strengthened.
Great Lakes groups also express concern over the exemption of “lakers,” ships operating only in the Great Lakes. While these boats may not be responsible for the introduction of new invasive species from overseas, they have been shown to facilitate the movement of foreign organisms between the Great Lakes. Additionally, the permit allows for a lengthy delay before vessels will be required to install new ballast technology, allowing some vessels to operate for more than a decade before meeting the new standards.
“The Great Lakes are more than ready for a strong national standard that can help win the war against invasive species,” said Joel Brammeier, president and CEO of the Alliance for the Great Lakes. “While EPA's first draft does not go far enough to protect our waters, there is still time to craft a permit that truly puts us on track to eliminate devastating invasions of the largest freshwater resource on the continent.”
"Stopping the influx of invasive species is essential to restore and protect the Great Lakes," said Jeff Skelding, campaign director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. "The people, communities and businesses that have paid billions of dollars over the years to deal with the vast economic and environmental damage caused by invasive species deserve the strongest possible water quality protections.”
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As a growing number of states move to pass laws that would criminalize pipeline protests and hit demonstrators with years in prison, an audio recording obtained by The Intercept showed a representative of a powerful oil and gas lobbying group bragging about the industry's success in crafting anti-protest legislation behind closed doors.
Speaking during a conference in Washington, DC in June, Derrick Morgan, senior vice president for federal and regulatory affairs at the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), touted "model legislation" that states across the nation have passed in recent months.
AFPM represents a number of major fossil fuel giants, including Chevron, Koch Industries and ExxonMobil.
"We've seen a lot of success at the state level, particularly starting with Oklahoma in 2017," said Morgan, citing Dakota Access Pipeline protests as the motivation behind the aggressive lobbying effort. "We're up to nine states that have passed laws that are substantially close to the model policy that you have in your packet."
Big Oil is now using its political power to try and criminalize protests of oil & gas infrastructure.— Friends of the Earth (@foe_us) August 19, 2019
"This legislation has potential to punish public participation and mischaracterize advocacy protected by the First Amendment."https://t.co/bmiHjONEhy
The audio recording comes just months after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law legislation that would punish anti-pipeline demonstrators with up to 10 years in prison, a move environmentalists condemned as a flagrant attack on free expression.
"Big Oil is hijacking our legislative system," Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network said after the Texas Senate passed the bill in May.
As The Intercept's Lee Fang reported Monday, the model legislation Morgan cited in his remarks "has been introduced in various forms in 22 states and passed in ... Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Missouri, Indiana, Iowa, South Dakota, and North Dakota."
"The AFPM lobbyist also boasted that the template legislation has enjoyed bipartisan support," according to Fang. "In Louisiana, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the version of the bill there, which is being challenged by the Center for Constitutional Rights. Even in Illinois, Morgan noted, 'We almost got that across the finish line in a very Democratic-dominated legislature.' The bill did not pass as it got pushed aside over time constraints at the end of the legislative session."
Many of the state bills restricting the right to protest have been "drafted by companies and passed through groups like ALEC, the secretive group of corporate lobbyists trying to rewrite state laws to benefit corporations over people." @greenpeaceusa https://t.co/ZxpTjWdrwT— Stand Up To ALEC (@StandUpToALEC) May 6, 2019
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.