NWF Lawsuit Regarding Ship’s Ballast Water

The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) sued on early November the State of New York Department of Environmental Conservation for failing to adequately protect state waters, including the Great Lakes, against aquatic invasive species from ballast water discharges. According to NWF such invaders have disrupted the ecosystem of New York waters from top to bottom and cause more than $200 million per year in damages and control costs across the Great Lakes.

2012.12.04 - NWF Lawsuit Regarding Ship's Ballast Water

According to Marc Smith, senior policy manager with the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes office, the state is leaving the door open to future invasions that hurt New York’s fish, wildlife and economy. NWF action to sue the New York Department of Environmental Conservation aims to force New York to protect its water quality and the water quality of the Great Lakes.

The lawsuit, filed with the New York Supreme Court for Albany County, marks a huge break from the past for New York. The state not long ago had been hailed by conservation leaders as exemplary in its defense of water quality standards against invasive species—having put forward some of the strongest ballast water protections in the country. Under Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the state has severely weakened protections, leading to the lawsuit by the NWF.

According to Marc Smith the New York has gone 180 degrees—from a leader in protecting water quality to defending an inadequate status quo and the state needs to go back to the drawing board and protect its waters and the Great Lakes.

“All ships traveling into any of the Great Lakes must first pass through New York,” said Katherine Nadeau, water and natural resources program director for Environmental Advocates of New York. “By imposing responsible standards that force shippers to step up, we can effectively prevent new species from threatening our water quality, our businesses, and our recreation opportunities both in-state and throughout the Great Lakes Basin.”

The lawsuit stems from New York’s certification of ballast water protections put forward by the U.S. EPA. After a long court battle, the federal agency was forced to issue a ballast water permit under the Clean Water Act to protect U.S. water quality from non-native aquatic species—biological pollution that lives, reproduces and spreads.

The permit—the Vessel General Permit—allows vessels entering the Great Lakes and other U.S. waters to discharge a set concentration of non-native organisms. But even EPA concedes that a reasonable potential of new invasions still exists. As a result, the permit – and New York’s certification of the permit – will not protect water quality. The National Wildlife Federation and other conservation groups are urging the EPA to strengthen its permit—and taking action against states that certify the flawed permit. Similar lawsuits are pending in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

“It’s high time that the nation slam the door on ballast water invaders,” said Smith. “The U.S. EPA has failed to address the problem, and we will not sit back and let states rubber stamp the agency’s flawed permit. We have no other option but to challenge this in court to defend New York’s water quality.”

Sources: WSJ, NWF


  1. State rights must be retained, but the best answer is National Coast Guard authorization legislation that adequately addresses all the problems of ballast water with an infrastructure to provide enforcement. Legislation to address, not just the living invasive s but toxic substances, chemicals, etc. with testing to determine the types of virus present and what particle amounts are considered safe for each. The legislation needs to encourage research with set goals with timelines that will continually foster development of new technology to be used for upgrading mandatory equipment requirements used to retrofit ships as soon as it becomes available, continually strengthening the standard. The legislation needs to require mandatory installation of equipment for ships that are exclusively used on the Great Lakes to prevent the continued spread of the existing pollutions, invasive s, bacteria and virus such as vhvs. This will only be achieved with strong willing leadership, starting at the top of our federal government. The problem of ballast water dose not end with state laws creating economic disparity between the states as they competitively are forced to negotiate with foreign economic shipping interests looking for weaker requirements to save money while they dump pollution that will spread through water across state lines. It is the job of the Federal government to protect all American waters equally for its citizens when the state can not enforce its regulations or has failed to create adequate protection because of economic competitiveness between states while dealing internationally with other countries and foreign economic interest. Unfortunately no state should have to accept the Federal governments status quo knowing and believing it is inadequate as New York State has done, and for this reason they should be held accountable until the Federal government acts prudently.

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