Lawsuit Seeks to Protect U.S. Waters From Ship Pollution

Lawsuit Seeks to Protect U.S. Waters From Ship Pollution, Invasive Species

WASHINGTON — The Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth sued the Environmental Protection Agency today for failing to finalize nationwide standards that would protect U.S. waterways from harmful vessel discharges.

Today’s lawsuit notes that discharges of vessel ballast water originating thousands of miles away can carry invasive species, pathogens and pollutants. These can contaminate waters and threaten ecosystems, public health and economies.

“The EPA has looked the other way for years as ships from all over the world dump disease-causing pathogens and invasive organisms that harm our waters and communities,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Pollutants and invasive species like the invasive overbite clam are threats that demand action, and it’s absurd that the EPA has abdicated its duty for so long and neglected to set firm limits on ballast water.”

Vessel pollution has spread harmful zebra mussels, coral diseases and even human pathogens. To improve stability, ships take up ballast water at their origins, and this water contains animals, plants and other organisms. The vessels carry that water to their destinations, where it is released and the foreign species are let out into the aquatic ecosystems. Some of these now-invasive species threaten native organisms and water quality. Communities with unreliable water treatment systems, including low-wealth and environmental justice communities, may be at heightened risk from introduced human pathogens.

“EPA was given an exceedingly generous timeline to comply with the law and issue meaningful regulations on vessel discharge,” said Hallie Templeton, legal director for Friends of the Earth. “It is clear that litigation is the only remaining tactic to force the agency to act. We hope today’s lawsuit will finally get EPA’s attention and begin forging a real path toward protecting ecosystems and nearby communities from this dangerous form of unregulated pollution.”

The EPA has a track record of ignoring vessel pollution. Courts have rejected the EPA’s inadequate vessel discharge standards in the past, and Congress required the EPA to establish new vessel discharge standards by Dec. 4, 2020, including standards to control ballast water pollution.

Under the Biden administration, the EPA has repeatedly postponed the release of its final standards. In fall 2020 the agency projected that the final standards would be published in March 2021, but after multiple delays the agency now says it will take nearly the entire four years of Biden’s first term. The EPA’s repeated moving of the goalposts has kept weak and unlawful standards in place. Today’s lawsuit is intended to force the EPA to stop delaying and issue its final standards.

In September 2022, environmental groups filed a notice of intent to sue the EPA over its failure to regulate ballast water. In June 2022, 34 members of Congress asked EPA Administrator Michael Regan to end the agency’s 50-year failure to comply with the Clean Water Act and finally issue the ballast water discharge standards required by the Act. In November 2022, 180 environmental organizations, public health organizations, commercial- and sport-fishing organizations and Native American tribes asked President Biden to order the EPA to finally follow the law on ballast water discharges. The Biden administration has not responded to either letter.

Today’s lawsuit was filed in the Northern District of California.


Miyoko Sakashita, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 845-6703, [email protected]
Shaye Skiff, Friends of the Earth, (202) 222-0723, [email protected]

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