Friday, September 9, 2005

Invasive Species are Still Winning the Ballast Water War

According to GAO, invasive species are still winning the ballast water war.  Zebra mussels and other water-borne invasive species catch a free ride on ballast water from ships.  Almost a decade ago, Congress instructed the Coast Guard to mount a ferocious attack on invasive species carried by ballast water, using voluntary guidelines and reporting.  If that salvo wasn't adequate to prevail, the Coast Guard was authorized to impose mandatory ballast water regulations.  After miserable results, the Coast Guard issued regulations for ballast water in 2004 -- requiring ballast water exchange by ships sailing from outside the EEZ and requiring reporting.  The Coast Guard says that compliance with the regulations is high -- now that the Coast Guard can impose penalties for noncompliance.  [This should come as no surprise to the "economic incentive" folks].  But still the invasive species are advancing.  One shortcoming of the regulatory system is that the regulations do not reach enough vessels -- contaminated ballast water is still discharged from coastal ships and from NOBOBs (no ballast on board -- in theory).  Another problem is that the regulations impose operational requirements for ballast water exchange -- and ballast water exchange does not completely prevent  invasive species from advancing into our waters.  GAO cites the Coast Guard's failure to establish a discharge standard as a primary reason that no one has developed more effective technologies.  This is the chicken and egg problem that led Congress in the Clean Air Act to use technology forcing standards to reduce mobile source emissions.  Maybe Congress should try it with invasive species, which are a primary threat to biodiversity.  invasive species report

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