Just a few days after the St. Lawrence Seaway opened for another season, the Environmental Protection Agency has issued ballast regulations for vessels navigating the waterway.
Resisting environmental calls for unenforceable standards, the agency will require vessels longer than 79 feet to treat ballast water with ultraviolet light or chemicals to kill invasive species in their tanks.
Non-native species such as zebra and quagga mussels have invaded the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River and present a threat to ecosystems. They have been carried in with ballast water used for stability in rough seas and then dumped after arriving in port. Ships now have to dump their ballast water 200 miles from a U.S. shoreline.
The ruling, however, leaves some environmentalists threatening legal action in pursuit of standards 100 or 1,000 times stricter than the EPA rules, although the shipping industry and scientists say cannot be met given todays technology. The EPA said its rules represent the most stringent standards that can be safely, effectively, credibly, and reliably met by existing treatment systems.
The same debate waged in New York before the Department of Environmental Conservation rejected similar environmental pressures after Canadian officials and Midwestern governors objected that the unworkable standards would have shut down the Seaway. They put in jeopardy thousands of jobs and billions of dollars generated by the inland waterway.
The EPAs national standards, though, would have broader application, affecting an estimated 60,000 vessels.
Environmentalist, however, also object to the lack of regulations governing ships that stay in the Great Lakes, arguing that they could carry invasive species between the lakes. The EPA concluded that treatment technologies for those vessels now are unavailable and economically unfeasible.
The new standards will take effect with ships built after Dec. 1. They will be phased in for existing vessels as they undergo maintenance.
Environmentalists are considering challenging the rules in court or through congressional action, but the EPA has taken a reasonable course with realistic, achievable standards.