Under court order to regulate the discharge of ballast water and other pollution from ships, the EPA has issued a final general permit that covers all discharges and essentially allows ships to comply with the Clean Water Act with the same business as usual practices. While the final permit was issued on December 18, a last-minute order from the same federal court that originally forced the EPA to regulate ships’ pollution will delay the effective date of the permit until February 6, 2009. For more details, see the EPA’s pre-publication federal register notice of the permit. For additional background, see my prior post on the vessel general permit, which was updated to include some of the most legally substantive public comments by environmental groups, states, and regional organizations.
The court’s order delaying the effective date of the final vessel general permit will give the Obama administration and its new EPA Administrator a short window of opportunity to fulfill Obama’s campaign promise of a “zero tolerance policy for invasive species.” Ballast water discharges are the worst source of invasive species in the Great Lakes, and the EPA’s general permit will not solve the problem. The Obama administration and new EPA leadership should toss this general permit and replace it with tough, substantive standards that protect the Great Lakes and force immediate restrictions on ballast water pollution and the spread of invasive species. This will be one of the Obama administration’s first environmental policy opportunities to make good on a popular and important campaign promise and protect the Great Lakes.