Environmental Protection

N.Y. Supreme Court Halts Ballast Water Challenge

A New York State Supreme Court Justice dismissed a challenge brought by shipping interests against the state’s tough new ballast water requirements, which are designed to limit the introduction of more invasive species into the Great Lakes.

Legal experts at Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and National Wildlife Federation (NWF) hail the win as a huge victory for states in the region that have taken an aggressive stand to limit dumping of water containing biological pollution from ocean-going vessels.

“These rules don’t just protect the ecosystem, they help defend multi-billion dollar tourism, fishing, and recreational boating industries in New York and throughout the Great Lakes,” said Thom Cmar, an attorney at NRDC. “New York is facing an alien invasion of its waters. By putting up these rules as a strong first line of defense, the state has joined Michigan and California as leaders in the fight to protect our waterways. It is time for the federal government to step up and join them.”

Lawyers from NRDC intervened in the shipping industry lawsuit alongside the state of New York, representing NWF. The May 21 decision of Justice Robert Sackett of the New York State Supreme Court, Albany County, rejected shipping industry arguments that the New York ballast water regulations were illegal because they were stricter than the U.S. EPA's nationwide discharge permit. "It is undisputable that ballast water on ocean-going vessels ... is a source of significant potential and actual biological pollution for the state's water systems, in the form of harmful aquatic invasive species," Sackett said in the ruling.

"This decision reaffirms that invasive species are damaging the Great Lakes' economy, quality, and our way of life." said Marc Smith, State Policy manager with National Wildlife Federation. "This ruling sends a strong message to other Great Lakes states and the EPA, after 30 years of inaction, to finally slam the door on invasive species by requiring the shipping industry to install effective protections against invasive species."

The New York court's ruling that states have authority to adopt ballast water rules that are more protective than federal standards is consistent with the decision last August by the federal appeals court in Cincinnati to uphold Michigan's ballast water rules against a similar shipping industry challenge.

The state of Wisconsin has also proposed ballast water rules that exceed the federal permit standards and reflect the need to protect a huge array of interests in the Great Lakes. In Minnesota, NWF and the Minnesota Conservation Federation have challenged the state's refusal to adopt similar requirements.

The ruling can be viewed online at http://docs.nrdc.org/water/files/wat_09060101a.pdf.

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