Coast Guard Proposes New Rule on Ballast Water

Coast Guard Proposes New Rule on Ballast Water

By Jennifer Nalbone, Campaign Director, Navigation and Invasive Species, Great Lakes United

Since the St. Lawrence Seaway opened in 1959, the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River have been inundated by aquatic invasive species from ocean-going shipping. More than 180 species such as sea lampreys and zebra mussels have been introduced wreaking havoc on our Great Lakes ecosystems. Fifty-years later, the Coast Guard is proposing a new rule to finally establish ballast water discharge standards and prevent invasive species introductions from commercial shipping. The deadline for public comment is December 4, 2009.

Last year, Congress was unable to develop a legislative solution to the invasive species being brought to the U.S. from overseas ships. This year, administrative action, in the form of a new Coast Guard rule, is poised to make significant progress in addressing this ecological crisis.

Broadly, the rulemaking is excellent in several regards, but could use improvement in a few areas.

The strong points:

  • The proposed rule sets a ‘Phase-One’ national ballast water discharge standard equivalent to the International Maritime Organization’s standard, for which technology has already been developed to meet. It then sets a ‘Phase-Two’ national ballast water discharge standard as strong as California’s— the most stringent standard of any state, and one thousand times stronger than the International Maritime Organization’s.
  • The rule is being made under the National Invasive Species Act, which does not undermine the authority of the Clean Water Act or the ability of states to protect their waters from biological pollution.
  • The rule regulates ballast discharges from most Lakers, ships that operate exclusively in the Great Lakes. Lakers do not introduce invasive species, but they can spread them from lake to lake.

The rulemaking can be improved in regards to the following provisions:

  • The timeline for implementation wouldn’t require existing vessels to begin installing ‘Phase-One’ technology until 2014 or 2016 at the earliest, and the installation of technology onboard ships can be drawn out over decades. Our freshwaters need protection sooner than that!
  • A proposed ‘practicability review’ presents a serious concern. The review could allow the Coast Guard to delay implementation of the ‘Phase- Two’ standard indefinitely. The rule needs to set a fixed deadline by which all vessels would have to comply with the ‘Phase-Two’ standard.

Following the public comment period, the Coast Guard will prepare responses to public comments and the final rulemaking for publication. We may see a final rule in 12-18 months.

We hope you participate in this important process! You can find the proposed rule here: To lean more about how you can help stop invasive species and take part in this public comment, contact Jennifer Nalbone at

Take Action— Comments Due December 4, 2009

Share Your Input On The Ballast water Rules

1. Go to

2. Type in the search box, USCG- 2001-10486, click search

3. The list will include “Standards for Living Organisms in Ships’Ballast Water Discharged in U.S. Waters, click on submit comment

4. Type in your information, comments or attach a file



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West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.