When Congress returns after Labor Day, the Senate Commerce Committee hopes to move the Ballast Water Management Act (S. 1578) through Committee. The bill would amend and strengthen existing federal law regulating invasive species from ships - the Non-indigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act of 1990.
The bill was removed from the agenda prior to the August recess due to ongoing questions related to whether the bill should preserve the possible application of the Clean Water Act to discharges of invasive species from ships. In September 2006, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California vacated a long-standing EPA regulation that exempted discharges incidental to the normal operation of vessels from NPDES permitting requirement. This ruling, which EPA is appealing, applies to vessel discharges that are currently exempted, such as ballast water, sewage, gray water, and bilge water. This court ruling could mean that the states would be required to regulate such discharges from all ships operating in U.S. waters, which EPA estimates as 13 million recreational boats, 81,000 commercial fishing vessels, and 53,000 freight and tank barges.
The Senate bill (S. 1578) intends to uniformly manage ballast water to minimize the discharge of invasive species. Shipping interests have expressed concern that regulating such discharges through the NPDES permit program would be problematic, and that vessel discharges would be subject to numerous and potentially conflicting state and federal regulatory approaches. Some environmental groups and States have opposed the bill because they want ballast water to be regulated under the Clean Water Act. To receive a copy of a memo from the Congressional Research Service regarding potential impacts to states, please contact Kate Zultner (firstname.lastname@example.org).