Senate Bill Would Repeal Clean Water Act Protections Against Invasive Species

Posted on April 17, 2018 by

UPDATE: We successfully garnered enough support to stop this bill moving forward. Thank you to our Great Lakes Senators!


The United States Senate is poised to vote on the Coast Guard Authorization Act as early as this week. In its current form, the bill exempts ballast water pollution from Clean Water Act protections.

Ships use ballast water to provide stability and balance while in transit, and invasive species can hitch a ride to new locations as ships discharge ballast into new waters. Currently under the Clean Water Act, the EPA and Coast Guard have integrated national standards that states may choose to make more protective.

The Senate measure would follow movement in Michigan to lower the state’s strict ballast rules to weaker federal standards. Lowering safeguards at the state and federal levels opens up the Great Lakes to new, destructive threats to native ecosystems.

If enacted, this bill would:

  • Exempt ballast water discharges from oversight by the Clean Water Act.
  • Preclude states from authorizing more stringent ballast water rules.
  • Transfer regulatory authority from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Coast Guard, whose purpose is to protect national security, not environmental sustainability.

The direct threats of invasive species include preying on native species, out-competing native species for food or other resources, causing or carrying disease, and preventing native species from reproducing or killing a native species’ young. Some species can damage public water supply and energy infrastructure. It is estimated that 55-70 percent of invasive species in the Great Lakes and 10-50 percent of the invasive species in western North America came from ballast water. Invasive species are virtually impossible to eradicate once established in our waterways, and mitigation efforts are costly and sometimes non-existent. 

Aquatic invasive species currently cost the United States $9 billion dollars per year in damage and control costs, including $6.4 billion for Zebra and Quagga mussels alone. The Great Lakes states and Ontario have faced a disproportionate impact from these unwelcome invaders, but regardless of where they originate, invasive species often spread throughout the continent.

We believe any federal rule changes should:

  • Maintain the rights of states to enact and enforce state laws under the Clean Water Act, particularly with regard to drinking water and fisheries.
  • Ensure that any federal standard has a clear and expedient process that allows for improvements over time, while providing States a strong role in developing, implementing, and reviewing federal standards.
  • Maintain that the agency most equipped to set science-based water quality standards – the U.S. EPA – be allowed to continue to do so.



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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.