A.G. Schneiderman Defends State’s Right To Protect Great Lakes, Hudson & LI Sound From Biological Pollution

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced he has taken action in federal court to defend New York’s right to protect its waterways from biological pollution – the result of introducing harmful, non-native species into a new water system. Non-native, or invasive, species are carried on commercial ships and damage fisheries, including those in the Great Lakes, Long Island Sound, Hudson River and other New York waters, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars of damages in New York each year.

“New York’s waterways are vital resources, directly linked to the health of our economy,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “Anything that threatens the sustainability of our waterways reduces their economic, recreational and environmental value. The corporate shipping interests seeking to take away our right to protect our waterways will be challenged, and my office will fight to keep our waterways safe for New Yorkers and strong for our economy.”

The Attorney General filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Tuesday in defense restrictions that New York added to a nationwide permit issued by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These permits, and New York’s restrictions, limit invasive species in the ballast waters that commercial ships routinely dump into the waterways they travel through.

Invasive species – such as zebra mussels, the round goby, and viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS) virus, all of which have been introduced to New York waters – push native species to extinction, damaging commercial and recreational fisheries. Unlike chemical pollution, the biological pollution of invasive species is self-replicating, so the problem worsens over time. A handful of organisms released into new water are able to reproduce and colonize wide areas of adjacent waters. Through direct predation and competition for resources, these resilient invaders degrade habitats, disrupt food chains, and threaten human health.

The EPA’s nationwide permit set specific limits on the number of invasive species that can be dumped with ballast waters – restrictions specifically added by New York to ensure state waters are properly protected from biological pollution. The Attorney General’s brief argues that the federal Clean Water Act compels the EPA to include these state-added restrictions to its nationwide permit.

In New York, invasive species introduced by dumping contaminated ballast waters pose a significant threat to environmental, recreational and economic value of a number of waters. For example:

The Great Lakes now contain more than 180 non-native species, including the notorious zebra mussel and other invasive organisms which have radically altered the native ecosystem. The establishment of invasive species in the Great Lakes results in estimated annual economic losses of $5.7 billion.

More than 50 non-native species and 40 species of unknown origin have been identified in the Long Island Sound. The presence of these species in the Sound can result in significant ecological, socioeconomic, and other costs, including harms to a commercial and recreational fishery that is estimated to contribute over $1 billion to local economies.

One of New York's most valuable natural resources -- the Hudson River -- is now infested with more than 100 non-indigenous species. It was estimated in 2005 that the total environmental and economic impacts of biological pollution in the New York State Canal and Hudson River systems is nearly $500 million per year.

Dr. David L. Strayer, Senior Scientist with the Cary Institute of Ecological Studies, said, “Species carelessly moved around the world in the ballast water of ocean-going vessels now fill many of New York’s waters, including the Great Lakes, the Hudson River, and our coastal waters. These invaders damage our ecosystems and cost us millions of dollars each year. The action by the New York’s Attorney General to shut down the ‘Ballast Water Express’ is an important step to safeguard our state's natural resources for future generations and keep us from being left with the bill for the damages caused by tomorrow's ballast water invaders.”

Thomas Marks, NY Director of Great Lakes Sport Fishing Council, said, “I applaud Attorney General Schneiderman’s actions to continue the legal fight to defend New York State’s right to set numeric limits on the number of invasive species that can be dumped with ballast waters. Strong efforts related to ballast water discharges are necessary to stop the invasion of our precious aquatic ecosystems. With the Attorney General’s continued actions, New York is setting the standard by which all waters can be protected.”

Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said, “We applaud Attorney General Schneiderman for defending critical waterbodies throughout New York from the severe damage caused by aquatic invasive species. Invasive species in the Long Island Sound such as sea squirts, the Asian Shore Crab and the European Flat Oyster are diminishing our native shellfish and fish populations, and damaging docks and boat hulls Requiring ships operating in our state's waters to be free of aquatic hitchhikers protects native fisheries, important infrastructure, and saves us money.”

David “Woody” Woodworth, President of the Southtown’s Walleye Association, said, “It is imperative that we protect our Great Lakes from invasive species dumped by ballast water of large commercial ships. Attorney General Schneiderman should be commended for his efforts to restrict the dumping of ballast water, which has greatly affected the pollution of our lakes with invasive species. New York and other states trying to protect their waterways should have the right to have controls in place to stop the contamination of our waters by large ships dumping polluted ballast water.”

This action is the most recent taken by the Attorney General to promote New York’s health, safety and economic security. In January, he filed a lawsuit against a Pennsylvania-based power plant for violating the Clean Air Act and threatening New York’s air quality. Schneiderman also led a coalition of state attorneys general in calling on the U.S. House of Representatives to keep in place critical environmental regulations protecting New Yorkers from mercury and other toxic substances hazardous to human health and the environment.
The case is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Timothy Hoffman, Environmental Scientist Dr. Raymond Vaughan and Deputy Bureau Chief Lisa Burianek of the Attorney General's Environmental Protection Bureau, together with Assistant Solicitor General Denise Hartman and Special Counsel to the Solicitor General Alison Nathan.