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Maritime shipping officials say new ballast water regulations could cripple industry

As local officials forecast a robust and growing economic impact from maritime shipping, they warn that impact worth many billions of dollars is threatened with extinction.

A steady stream of truck, container and forklift activity at the Port of Oswego testifies to news of the port’s economic impact.

“Systemwide, 227,000 jobs depend on the great lakes shipping industry, it produces $35.5 billion in revenues, pays wages of $14.1 billion, and contributes a total of $4.6 billion in taxes,” said Oswego Port Authority Director Jonathan Daniels.

That was the good news announced by Daniels, the results of a new study of all 32 ports in the Great Lakes-Saint Lawrence Seaway shipping system west of Montreal.

But Daniels warned, all of that is threatened by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s new rules on treating ballast water.

“Given the dire circumstances of these regulations, we hope some positive news will be forthcoming, because if not, on August 1 2013, the Port of Oswego would be forced to cease all international shipping operations.”

Ballast water is what it sounds like; water taken on by ships to maintain balance when they off-load cargo and discharged as they take on cargo.  Ballast water is a proven path for unwanted international stowaways, invasive species that can wreak havoc on their new turf.

"The regulations require all commercial vessels operating and traversing New York’s waters to be able to treat and clean their water to a standard 100 times current international maritime organization standards," said Daniels. "Additionally, vessels that will be constructed after January 1, 2013 must treat ballast water to a level 1000 times that of international standards. There’s a little bit of a problem. No technology exists to treat to 100 times, 1000 times, or anything above the current IMO standards.”

Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation Administrator Collister Johnson echoed Daniels’ protests. Johnson said the statement that no existing technology could meet the standard was based on two major studies. One by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and a National Academy of Sciences study sponsored by the Coast Guard.

“Why would DEC ignore the science of EPA and the U.S. Coast Guard Science Advisory Board and the National Academy of Sciences?," asked Johnson. "Why would they offend Canada?  Why would they want to isolate New York as the only jurisdiction in the world that would be following a set of standards that is different from the international standard? And the answer is, ‘I don’t know.’ But i do know that that approach, in my judgment, does not protect the environment. What you want to do to protect the environment is get reasonable, workable standards installed on ships as quickly as you can and then improve from there," he said.

It appears the DEC is listening.  In response to our interview request, a DEC spokesperson issued the following statement:

"While NYSDEC has established ballast water requirements, a strong and clear national standard would be preferable. We are working with other states and encouraging EPA to adopt a standard this year that is achievable and protects the state's coastal waters from invasive species. We plan to re-examine our requirements following the release of EPS''s proposal."