The Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee, chaired by U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ), and the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee, chaired by U.S. Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH), held a hearing today to explore current ballast water and incidental discharge management, as well as potential ways to implement cost effective and common sense approaches to future regulations.
In order to maintain stability during transit, most ocean going vessels fill internal tanks with ballast water during the loading of cargo and then release it during unloading. Ballast water has long been recognized as one of several pathways by which invasive species are transported globally and introduced into coastal waters where they did not live before. The EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) released a report on the effects of ballast water discharges, which found that any ballast water management strategy that is more stringent than the one being imposed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) is not currently achievable. However, some states are pushing for more stringent standards.
The discharge of ballast water and other substances from vessels are currently regulated by the Coast Guard, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 26 states, 2 Indian Tribes and a U.S. territory. The current overlapping and contradictory patchwork of ballast water regulations hampers the flow of commerce, threatens international trade, unduly burdens vessel operations in U.S. waters, undermines job creation and hurts our economy.
"We have to overcome this mindset that mandating a dozen different, unachievable standards, each more stringent than the next, somehow protects our environment. It does not. The time has finally come to enact a clear, effective, and uniform national standard that utilizes available and cost effective technology to reduce the risk of future aquatic invasions. We cannot afford to delay any longer as ballast water continues to threaten our environment and our economy," Chairman LoBiondo said.
Chairman Gibbs echoed LoBiondo's call for improvement to the current system: "As we consider ballast water standards, we should not burden our shippers with unobtainable, unrealistic, expensive regulations that have not demonstrated a significant environmental benefit. Instead we need a common sense approach that can be enacted quickly, protects the environment, reduces red tape, grows maritime jobs and opens the flow of maritime commerce."
Thomas Allegretti, President and CEO of the American Waterways Operators testified to the strong economic impacts of ballast water management: "We hope that Congress will seize the opportunity to fix this broken system because the economic stakes are very high. Each year, barges and towing vessels -- just one segment of the domestic and international maritime industry that is harmed by the current regulatory patchwork -- safely and efficiently move more than 800 million tons of cargo critical to the U.S. economy such as coal, grain, petroleum products, chemicals, steel, aggregates, and containers. The economic impact of this commerce extends far beyond the maritime industry, to the shippers, producers, and communities that rely on the safe, efficient, and cost-effective transportation of critical commodities, including commodities for export."
Today's hearing focused on options to improve current regulations to ensure the free flow of commerce, grow maritime jobs, and protect the environment. More information on today's hearing can be found here.