US Senate Vessel Incidental Discharge Act to Affect BWT

Sarah Carter

Sarah Carter · 16 April 2018


The Senate will vote on its Coast Guard bill this week, which currently includes the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA). According to Healing Our Waters - Great Lakes Coalition, this legislation significantly changes to how ballast water discharges are regulated nationwide, and would be bad for the Great Lakes. It says that VIDA moves us away from the responsible management of ballast water discharges by completely removing Clean Water Act authority over ship discharges. Under VIDA, the Clean Water Act would cease to apply to all ship incidental discharges—including ballast water, nutrient-laden greywater, and chemicals—from commercial vessels. In addition, VIDA would transfer regulatory authority from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—the agency with water pollution expertise—to the Coast Guard, whose top priority is homeland security; eliminate the Clean Water Act’s protection of water quality clean enough to protect public health, native species, and the use of waters for municipal and industrial purposes; and remove the Clean Water Act’s function of driving the development of improvements in treatment technology. In addition to undermining federal regulation of ballast water discharges, VIDA would also preempt states’ rights to protect their waters. VIDA also creates special exceptions for vessels that operate exclusively the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway. It ignores clear scientific evidence that ships transfer and spread invasive species from one U.S. port to another by allowing the Coast Guard to wholly exempt such ships from any regulation. Environmental and conservation groups made the following statement today, urging Senators to oppose this harmful legislation: “It took two acts of Congress, a lawsuit, and states passing their own rules to get federal requirements for actual ballast water treatment systems onboard ships in place in 2008. Yet the shipping industry continues to fight these regulations, pushing for the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act year after year in Congress. Aquatic invasive species, brought in primarily via the ballast tanks of ocean-going ships, have caused irreparable harm to the Great Lakes ecosystem and cost the region billions of dollars since the late 1980s. To improve balance and stability, ships take in or discharge water in their ballast tanks when cargo is loaded or unloaded. In doing so, they also take in all kinds of live critters that, when discharged somewhere else, can pose a serious threat to native species and ecosystems. Invasive species are costing the Great Lakes states more than $200 million each year already. The Vessel Incidental Discharge Act would eliminate Clean Water Act authority over ship discharges including ballast water and remove the U.S. EPA from its scientific role in deciding what standards are needed to protect waterways across the country, including the Great Lakes. It would exempt ships that operate solely on the lakes. And it would preempt states’ rights to protect their waters. Legislation to support our nation’s critical maritime and security needs should not be a place to weaken basic protections of our country’s greatest freshwater resource, the Great Lakes. Putting the Great Lakes — drinking water for 40 million Americans and Canadians — at risk is non-negotiable. If this harmful amendment is not removed from the U.S. Coast Guard Authorization Act, we urge Senators to vote ‘no’ on this bill.”
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