Controlling the Spread of Invasive Species

Jun 21, 2010

Legal Victory in Ongoing Ballast Water Debate

In July 2008, Baykeeper earned an important victory in our efforts to prevent the spread of invasive species in our waterways. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must regulate ship discharges that pollute U.S. waters and bring invasive species into local habitats.

Baykeeper, The Ocean Conservancy and Northwest Environmental Advocates brought the suit and were represented by the Environmental Law Clinic at Stanford Law School and Pacific Environmental Advocacy Center at Lewis and Clark Law School.

Our Ten-Year Effort to Protect Waterways from Invasive Species

In 1999, Baykeeper and partners asked the courts to compel EPA to regulate discharges of ballast water from commercial vessels. Ships discharge billions of gallons of ballast water every year containing non-native, invasive species into U.S. bays, estuaries, and the Great Lakes, but EPA claimed that ballast water was exempt from regulation under the Clean Water Act.

In 2005, a district court ruled in our favor and ordered EPA to regulate discharges from all vessels by September 30, 2008. EPA appealed the ruling, but in July 2008, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the lower court's decision that EPA cannot exempt ballast water from regulation.

The Work Continues

The Ninth Circuit's ruling is likely final since EPA is not expected to appeal, giving a needed boost to water quality advocates on this issue. However, the shipping industry has already begun lobbying lawmakers to preserve their exemption from ballast water regulations. The U.S. Congress is considering several bills that would undermine this latest ruling and allow the shipping industry to continue transporting invasive species into U.S. waterways.

Baykeeper is working with a broad coalition of environmental groups to oppose these bills, which have the potential to reverse a decade of legal advocacy.

The Impact of Invasive Species

Over 21 billion gallons of ballast water from international ports is discharged into U.S. waters each year. Experts estimate that invasive species cost Americans billions of dollars annually in loss of agriculture, fisheries, forestry and infrastructure maintenance. Invasive species are also the major contributor to the decline of nearly half of the endangered species in the U.S.

The San Francisco Bay-Delta is the most invaded aquatic ecosystem in North America and may be the most invaded estuary in the world. One new non-native species is established in San Francisco Bay every 14 weeks.

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