USCG Unveils Long-Awaited Final Rule for Ballast Water Discharges and Treatment

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March 17, 2012

The U.S. Coast Guard said Friday that it will publish a long-awaited final rule for standards for living organisms in ships’ ballast water discharged into waters of the United States in the Federal Register scheduled for March 23.

Under the new rule, the Coast Guard established a standard for the allowable concentration of living organisms, i.e. a standard for the acceptable number of living organisms per volume of water, in ballast water discharged from ships in U.S. waters.  The Coast Guard is also amending its regulations for engineering equipment by establishing an approval process for ballast water management systems.

“These new regulations will aid in controlling the introduction and spread of nonindigenous species from ships’ ballast water,” said Jeffrey Lantz, director of the Coast Guard’s Office of Commercial Regulations and Standards. “This final rule establishes a ballast water discharge standard that is protective of the marine environment and is also consistent with the discharge standard adopted by the International Maritime Organization in 2004.”

The Final Rule was reached through the support of findings from reports conducted by the National Academy of Sciences and the EPA Science Advisory Board in 2011, and are the most stringent requirements that vessels can practicably implement and that the Coast Guard can enforce as of now.

Vessels entering the Great Lakes will still be required to fully exchange or flush their ballast tanks with seawater until they are equipped with the approved ballast water treatment systems that meet the discharge standard.  Meanwhile, all inbound foreign vessels are examined in Montreal by a working group of U.S. and Canadian agencies, including the U.S. Coast Guard, to ensure the ballast tanks are exchanged or flushed as required.

“Once fully implemented, this ballast water discharge standard will significantly reduce the risk of an introduction of aquatic nuisance species into the Great Lakes,” said Rear Adm. Michael N. Parks, commander of the Ninth Coast Guard District in Cleveland.

While some environmental groups contend that the new rule is not as stringent as it could be, the new rule is mostly viewed as a major milestone and provides a good starting for ballast water treatment and discharge.

In a written statement, the Coast Guard said it “fully intends to issue a later rule that will establish a more stringent phase-two discharge standard.”

The final rule will be effective 90 days after publication in the Federal Register on March 23.

Download: Standards for Living Organisms in Ships’ Ballast Water Discharged in U.S. Waters

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