Ballast Water: Frequestly Asked Questions


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Frequently Asked Questions


Zebra mussel encrusted tool used to monitor currents

Photo 86: Zebra mussel encrusted tool used to monitor currents. (NOAA; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service web site).

1. What is NOAA’s authority to address non-indigenous aquatic species?

The Nonindigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act (NANPCA) established the Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force and charged it with the responsibility to "develop and implement a program for waters of the United States to prevent introduction and dispersal of aquatic nuisance species; to monitor, control and study such species; and to disseminate related information"(16 U.S.C. §4722(a)). The Task Force is co-chaired by the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and consists of other senior officials, including, the EPA Administrator, the Commandant of the USCG, and the Secretary of Agriculture. NANPCA also grants to the Under Secretary of Commerce, the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Secretary of the department in which the Coast Guard is operating, explicit authority to promulgate regulations necessary for the development and implementation of the Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force Program (16 U.S.C. § 4722(j)(1)). The Task Force adopted the Aquatic Nuisance Species Program in 1994. The Program consists of three core objectives, namely, to prevent further unintentional introductions of non-indigenous aquatic species, to ensure prompt detection and monitoring of non-indigenous aquatic species, and to control aquatic nuisance species. TheNational Invasive Species Council (NISC), established in 1999 by Executive Order 13112 and co-chaired by the Secretary of Commerce along with the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior, works to ensure that Federal programs and activities to prevent and control invasive species are coordinated, effective, and efficient.

2. What role has the International Section of NOAA’s Office of General Counsel played in international efforts to manage ballast water?

The discharge of ballast water from vessels is the single largest vector for the transmission of aquatic nuisance species worldwide. When released into the marine environment, such species can thrive, out-compete native organisms for food, and prey on native species.

As a member of the U.S. delegation to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the International Section of NOAA’s General Counsel played a key role in drafting and negotiating the Ballast Water Management Convention.Domestically, the NOAA GC International Section continues to participate in interagency working groups to inform the development of proposed legislation to implement the Ballast Water Management Convention, and has offered input in the USCG Interim Final Rulemaking process. Given NOAA’s stewardship role to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources, and its mandate to prevent, monitor, and control invasive species through the Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force, NOAA’ Office of General Counsel has a strong interest in continuing to provide legal support to NOAA program participation in the development and implementation of ballast water management regulations.

3. What is the interplay between the USCG Draft Interim Final Rule and the EPA draft vessel general permit?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) both regulate ballast water management in the U.S. As indicated in the 2012 USCG final rule on living organisms in ships’ ballast water, vessels subject to the final rule are also subject to EPA’s Vessel General Permit (VGP). The USCG final rule is not intended to limit, in any way, actions the EPA may take in the future with respect to regulation of ballast water discharge in the VGP. The two agencies are working closely together in the development of ballast water discharge standards and to harmonize requirements, to the extent feasible and appropriate, under their respective statutory mandates. There are, however, a few significant differences between EPA’s draft VGP and USCG’s final rule:

  1. Under the EPA draft vessel general permit, vessels that are newly constructed after January 1, 2012 are subject to the numeric discharge standard upon entering U.S. waters (and upon the effective date of the permit). Under USCG’s final rule, new build vessels constructed after December 1, 2013 must comply upon delivery.
  2. The USCG ballast water discharge standard does not apply to vessels operating exclusively in the Great Lakes. However, the Coast Guard intends to re-examine this decision in the future. The draft vessel general permit includes ballast water management measures specific to existing "confined Lakers" and requires all confined Lakers built after January 1, 2009, to meet the discharge standard.
  3. Although the draft VGP does not recognize an alternate management system (AMS) as an acceptable practice, the final rule employs AMS as a "bridge" between ballast water exchange and discharge standards. Any vessel using an AMS must comply with the terms and conditions of the VGP while operating in U.S. waters.
  4. The final USCG rule phases out ballast water exchange; however, the draft vessel general permit requires ballast water exchange in combination with treatment systems for vessels entering the Great Lakes from beyond the Exclusive Economic Zone.