Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, October 17, 2023


Miyoko Sakashita, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 845-6703,
Shaye Skiff, Friends of the Earth, (202) 222-0723,

EPA Again Refuses to Protect U.S. Waters From Invasive Species, Diseases Released by Ships

WASHINGTON— The Environmental Protection Agency announced a proposed rule today that would allow ships to continue releasing harmful concentrations of invasive species and disease organisms into U.S. waters. The EPA is proposing to keep in place ballast water discharge standards that the courts have determined are unlawful and violate the Clean Water Act.

Ballast water, which ships take up and discharge to improve stability, carries non-native species and human and animal pathogens from all parts of the globe. The release of these biological pollutants into U.S. waters has damaged ecosystems, sickened people and harmed the economy.

Last year 34 members of Congress and 180 environmental, public health and tribal organizations asked the administration to finally issue discharge standards that meet the requirements of the Clean Water Act, 50 years after the law directed the EPA to do so.

“This rule has been decades in the making, and I’m disappointed the EPA isn't proposing something better than these weak standards,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “While the EPA has been stalling, ships have continued to discharge invasive species and pathogens into our waterways, harming people and ecosystems.”

The Clean Water Act, passed in 1972, requires EPA to regulate pollution discharges into U.S. waters. But the agency illegally exempted ballast water discharges from any regulation for 36 years. During that time, these discharges released numerous invasive species into the United States, including zebra and quagga mussels in the Great Lakes, a destructive Asian clam in San Francisco Bay, and a fatal, pandemic strain of cholera in Gulf Coast waters.

A series of lawsuits forced the EPA to set standards for ballast discharges in 2013. But in 2015, the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals held that the standards the EPA set did not meet the minimum requirements of the Clean Water Act and directed the agency to develop new standards. Congress ordered the EPA to finalize new standards by December 2020, but the release has been repeatedly postponed under the Biden administration.

In February the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth, represented by the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic, sued the EPA for failing to finalize standards. In response to the lawsuit, the agency agreed earlier this month to release final standards by Sept. 24, 2024.

“EPA was given an exceedingly generous timeline to comply with the law and issue meaningful regulations on vessel discharge,” said Marcie Keever, oceans and vessels program director at Friends of the Earth. “Sadly, today’s proposal makes no progress toward protecting ecosystems and nearby communities from these dangerous discharges.”

The U.N. Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services recently reported that aquatic invasive species have cost the world more than $100 billion annually.

The organizations demanding that the Biden administration take action on ballast water include environmental groups, commercial and sport fishing organizations, public health organizations, business and trade associations, water agencies, farm organizations, Native American tribes and environmental justice organizations. They noted that because of the EPA's failure to protect against the introduction of waterborne diseases, "communities with weaker water and wastewater treatment, which are often communities of color, are exposed to greater risks."

The proposed ballast water regulations will be open for public comment for 60 days.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Friends of the Earth fights to create a more healthy and just world. Our current campaigns focus on promoting clean energy and solutions to climate change, ensuring the food we eat and products we use are safe and sustainable, and protecting marine ecosystems and the people who live and work near them.

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