Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, May 18, 2017

Contact: Brett Hartl, (202) 817-8121,

Senate Committee OKs Bill to Strip EPA's Power to Halt Spread of Aquatic Invasive Species

WASHINGTON— The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation today voted on and adopted an amendment to the Coast Guard Authorization Act that would effectively eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to regulate discharges from large ocean vessels, which often contain aquatic organisms from other parts of the world.

Non-native species from ballast water can inflict widespread and expensive damage to rivers and lakes. For years the EPA has been tasked under the Clean Water Act to stem the spread of non-native species arriving in ballast water — and the shipping industry has fought standards requiring vessels to be retrofitted to address the problem. Today's amendment would transfer all authority to regulate ballast water discharges to the U.S. Coast Guard but includes no meaningful requirement that the Coast Guard set stricter limits on discharges into fresh or saltwater bodies.

“Non-native aquatic species have already ravaged San Francisco Bay, the Great Lakes and other rivers and estuaries. This bill will make the problem much, much worse,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This is a gift to industry and an insult to taxpayers, who already help support billions of dollars in restoration efforts just to keep current invasions from ballast water from getting worse.”

Ballast water is water carried in a shipping vessel's ballast tanks to improve its stability and balance. When ships take on ballast water, the plants and organisms in that region also get picked up and re-released in other regions, where they become pests.

In 2008 the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that the EPA must regulate and address the spread of invasive species from ballast water under the Clean Water Act. In 2015 the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the 9th Circuit and held that the EPA needed to do even more under the Clean Water Act to require the most effective technology that has been demonstrated to be effective to clean and remove aquatic organisms from shipping vessels' ballast water. 

“Republicans are giving foreign shipping interests the green light to cause irreparable harm to some of our most beautiful waters,” said Hartl. “They are essentially saying that the wildlife and communities that rely on these areas should be footing the bill for the cleanup.”

Invasive species like the zebra mussel in the Great Lakes cause $9 billion annually in damages to U.S. infrastructure and help drive the decline of native endangered species. Approximately 52 million gallons of ballast water gets dumped into U.S. waters each year, and 55 percent to 70 percent of 180 known invasions of the Great Lakes were caused by ballast water.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.3 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places..

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