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Post date: November 13 2002

Attorneys General From Great Lakes States Call On Epa To Close Legal Loophole On Exotic Species Flushed From Ships

Attorneys General from four Great Lakes states today petitioned a federal appellate court to compel the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to stem the introduction of harmful invasive species into American waterways - including the Great Lakes - by regulating the discharge of ballast water from oceangoing vessels.

The four attorneys general filed an amicus brief today in federal appellate court in San Francisco urging that the court uphold a lower federal court ruling from March 2002 ordering the EPA to regulate the discharge of ballast water from large ships in U.S. waterways.

"Invasive species such as the zebra mussel and sea lamprey have caused and continue to cause tremendous ecological and economic damage to our Great Lakes," said New York Attorney General Spitzer. "By failing to act, EPA is allowing this serious problem to worsen. I am asking a federal court to direct the EPA to take steps under the Clean Water Act to address this important issue."

Spitzer was joined in the amicus brief by Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan, Michigan Attorney General Jennifer Granholm and Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch.

While the petition by the four Attorneys General focuses on the Great Lakes waterway, the issue of alien species being introduced through the emptying of ballast tanks affects seaboard and inland ports across the United States.

Thousands of large ships from around the world annually sail throughout the Great Lakes. In the course of their operations they routinely discharge ballast water as they load and unload cargo. This ballast water may contain non-native fish, plants or insects picked up at previous ports of call.

Ballast water is the most significant manner in which invasive species enter the Great Lakes, causing damage to native plants and fisheries. The harm caused by exotic species such as the zebra mussel, river ruffe, round goby, spiny water flea, and sea lamprey in the Great Lakes is widespread. Congress has estimated that the economic disruption to communities, just from zebra mussels alone, has already reached several billion dollars.

In 1999, public interest groups such as Northwest Environmental Advocates, Center for Marine Conservation and San Francisco Baykeeper petitioned the EPA to close a loophole allowing ships to discharge water from their ballast tanks without regulation. The groups sued the EPA in 2001 when the agency failed to act on their petition.

In March 2002, a federal court in California ordered the EPA to use its authority under the federal Clean Water Act to begin the process of regulating the discharge of ballast water from ships. EPA has appealed that decision. Today the four state Attorneys General filed an amicus brief urging the federal appellate court to order EPA to begin regulating ballast water discharges.

The Attorneys General filed their amicus brief in the United States District Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco.

The Great Lakes contain 18 percent of the world's and 95 percent of the United States' supply of fresh surface water. The Great Lakes - Ontario, Erie, Huron, Michigan and Superior - are a source of drinking water and energy, and are used for recreational, agricultural, industrial and transportation purposes by 46 million people living in the Great Lakes region.

Assistant Attorney General Timothy Hoffman is handling this matter for the New York Attorney General. Assistant Attorney General Jerry Carr is handling the matter for the Illinois Attorney General. Assistant Attorney General Stanley Pruss is handling the matter for the Michigan Attorney General.