EPA must update ship ballast water dumping rules, lawsuit says

Signage is seen at the headquarters of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Washington, D.C.
Signage is seen at the headquarters of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Washington, D.C., U.S. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
  • Groups say EPA missed 2020 deadline to update standards
  • Inaction leaves in place general permit scheme invalidated in 2015

(Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency missed deadlines to update pollution standards for ballast discharges from ships, according to a lawsuit filed by environmental groups claiming the government's inaction is threatening American waters.

Friends of the Earth and the Center for Biological Diversity said in a lawsuit filed in federal court in San Francisco on Monday that the EPA was more than two years late in developing new standards for ship pollution as mandated by Congress.

A 2018 amendment to the Clean Water Act required the agency by 2020's end to develop new standards that could incorporate new technologies to protect against invasive species and human pathogens being dumped into U.S. waterways, the lawsuit said.

Those discharges cause an estimated $9 billion in annual damages to U.S. industry, coastlands and aquatic resources, according to the complaint.

"Across the board, we would like to see the EPA taking vessel pollution more seriously," said Miyoko Sakashita, senior counsel and oceans director for the Center for Biological Diversity.

An EPA spokesperson declined to comment Tuesday.

The lawsuit contended that the EPA's failure to update the standards has left in place a 2013 general permitting scheme for ship discharges that the New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in 2015 were inadequate.

That ruling remanded the permits to the agency but allowed them to stay in place during a review.

The groups claim a set of discharge regulations proposed by the EPA in October 2020 were “identical” to the 2013 permitting standards, but that even that proposal was not finalized.

The suit is Center for Biological Diversity et al. v. Michael S. Regan et al., U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, case No. 3:23-cv-00535.

For the plaintiffs: Miyoko Sakashita, Kristen Monsell and Julie Teel Simmonds of the Center for Biological Diversity, and Debora Sivas, Matthew Sanders and Stephanie Safdi of the Mills Legal Clinic at Stanford Law School.

For the government: Counsel not immediately available.

(Note: This story has been updated to reflect that EPA has declined to comment.)

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