The Minnesota Pollution Control Authority (MPCA) citizen board voted 6-0 to move ahead with regulations on discharge of untreated ballast in state waters on Tuesday. The new rules put in place a permitting process for ballast discharges in Lake Superior and require ships to clean and treat their ballasts before entering the lake by 2016.
Ballast is water taken on in a port of call to stabilize a ship and later discharged in a different port of call. It is estimated that ballast discharge from oceangoing vessels, known regionally as “salties,” has introduced as many as 180 invasive species to the Great Lakes ecosystem and beyond.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was forced to begin regulating ballast discharges throughout the entire Great Lakes beginning Sept. 30 after a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision upheld lower-court rulings that the Environmental Protection Agency overstepped its authority in 1973 by exempting marine discharges of ballast water from the permitting system. Oceangoing vessels will no longer be able to discharge ballast water into the Great Lakes without a permit.
Minnesota’s permiting system and regulations are opposed by both the shipping industry and the EPA, who argue that a separate permiting system and regulations are redundant and restrictive. Many Great Lakes advocates remain skeptical of the EPA’s ballast efforts and believe the MPCA’s action is necessary to protect state resources from the onslaught of viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS) and other invasives that have yet to arrive in Minnesota.