Clean Water Act: Environment, Economy Left Vulnerable

U.S. Senate Assault on Clean Water Act Will Leave Environment, Economy Vulnerable to Invasive Species

Exemption to shipping industry foists multi-million-dollar cost of ballast water invaders onto people, businesses, and communities.

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The U.S. Senate is poised to vote as early as tomorrow on eliminating Clean Water Act protections that prevent aquatic invasive species from entering U.S. waters through the discharge of ballast water. Tucked into the Coast Guard authorization bill is the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act—a bill that exempts the shipping industry from complying with the Clean Water Act. The bill puts in place weaker, ineffective standards that will leave U.S. waters vulnerable to future aquatic invasive species that currently cost U.S. businesses, utilities, communities, and municipalities millions of dollars per year in damages and control costs.

Conservation groups are asking U.S. senators to oppose the Coast Guard bill unless the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act is removed.

Conservation groups oppose the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act because it:

  • Eliminates Clean Water Act protections over ship discharges including ballast water;
  • Establishes weaker, non-protective and ineffective ballast water standards;
  • Removes the U.S. EPA from its scientific role in deciding what standards are needed to protect U.S. rivers, lakes, and oceans from new invaders;
  • Prohibits states from putting in place more effective protections;
  • Abolishes the ability of citizens to take action to protect their waters from invasive species.


The Clean Water Act is the No. 1 tool for protecting U.S. waters from pollution—including biological pollution. Invasive species are a national problem, requiring a strong national response. Lax protections would be disastrous because once invasive species take hold, they are impossible to eradicate. In fact, they will likely spread. Invasive zebra and quagga mussels, which were introduced into the Great Lakes via ballast water in the late 1980s, have now spread to California, Nevada, and Texas.

Conservation groups opposed to the Senate assault on the Clean Water Act said today:

Marcie Keever, oceans and vessels program director, Friends of the Earth:

“The Clean Water Act has provided protection for our waters from polluted ship discharges for almost a decade. Congress must not allow this dirty industry to start dumping its pollution in our oceans and lakes again.”

Collin O’Mara, president and CEO, National Wildlife Federation:

“The Clean Water Act has proven to be the most effective tool we have to prevent pollution into our rivers, lakes, and oceans. Exempting the shipping industry from their obligations under the Clean Water Act not only leaves the door open to future invasive species—it foists the staggering costs of invasive species onto people, communities, and businesses. Every U.S. senator who cares about our drinking water, fishing, and outdoor recreational economy needs to oppose this assault on clean water and pass a clean Coast Guard bill that does not have these damaging provisions.”

Brad Campbell, president, Conservation Law Foundation:

“This bill would gut both the protections of the Clean Water Act and the law’s bedrock principle of cooperative federalism for the sake of a special interest and its lobbyists. State and local governments, and taxpaying families and businesses, will have to shoulder heavy costs from the inevitable damage this bill will cause.”

Nina Bell, executive director, Northwest Environmental Advocates:

“This bill will cost taxpayers and the environment dearly as it is nothing more than a welcome mat to invasive species from international ports that will continue to destroy commercial and recreational fishing industries, clog the nation’s infrastructure, and ruin habitat in our nation’s waters.” 

Rebecca Riley, senior attorney at Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC):

“Invasive species have fundamentally altered some of the nation’s most important and sensitive waters. By and large they have arrived as living pollution in ballast water. And living things don’t just sit around, which is why after transforming the Great Lakes, we are now seeing many of those same invasives infiltrating inland waterways too. This is the wrong time to make it easier for new species to arrive. But that is exactly what this bill will do by making the nation less vigilant and industry less aggressive in the fight to stop invasive species.”

Brett Hartl, government affairs director, Center for Biological Diversity:

“Non-native aquatic species have already ravaged San Francisco Bay, the Great Lakes and other rivers and estuaries. This legislation will make the problem exponentially worse. This is a gift to industry and an insult to taxpayers, who already help support billions of dollars in restoration efforts just to keep current invasions from ballast water from getting worse.”

Molly Flanagan, vice president for policy, Alliance for the Great Lakes:

“Voting for this bill is a vote against the Great Lakes. Putting the Great Lakes at risk is non-negotiable. This bad bill would roll back critical protections against pollution that costs the Great Lakes more than $200 million annually, and effectively gives a pass to some ships from ever meeting pollution standards.  We urge Senators to oppose this bill and stand up for the Great Lakes.”

Todd Ambs, campaign director, Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition:

“Weakening Clean Water Act protections will undermine efforts to restore and protect the Great Lakes and will harm our environment and economy. The Great Lakes demand the toughest protections afforded under the Clean Water Act, not weak, ineffective standards under the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act. U.S. senators must stand firm in opposition to misguided policies that threaten our drinking water, jobs, and way of life.”

Expert contact: Marcie Keever, (510) 900-3144, [email protected]
Communications contact: Patrick Davis, (202) 222-0744, [email protected]

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