Watertown Daily Times
May 26, 2016
Non-defense-related legislation tucked away in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, which was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last week, would remove the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s authority in regulating ballast water discharge from cargo vessels.
Dubbed the “Vessel Incidental Discharge Act,” the bill directs the U.S. Coast Guard to establish new standards for ship discharge of ballast water, which is water carried in vessel ballast tanks to improve stability and discharged at port when cargo is loaded or unloaded.
Under VIDA, ballast water discharges would be exempt from Clean Water Act permits that are renewed every five years, which allows for reevaluation, water level monitoring and improvements to treatment technology. Additionally, vessels operating in the Great Lakes or other “geographically limited areas,” according to the bill, would be exempt from ballast water treatment requirements.
A Congressional Research Service report conducted last year states that the goal of the legislation is to set a single ballast water management standard overseen by the Coast Guard. However, Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway advocacy groups, including Save the River, have denounced the legislation, fearing that removal of EPA control over ballast water discharges could cause a wider spread of invasive species.
D. Lee Willbanks, executive director of Save the River, said the legislation undermines efforts made over the last several years to stave off invasive species, and it’s unfair that the bill was included in an unrelated national defense bill.
“Right when we’re beginning to make progress, this gets slipped into the (NDAA),” he said. “Then we go back to where we were.”
In Congress, U.S. Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Willsboro, has been working to eliminate the VIDA bill, which is sponsored by U.S. Sen. Marco A. Rubio, R-Fla.
Ms. Stefanik said VIDA was added to the NDAA without a roll-call vote. While she put forth an amendment to strike the bill from the NDAA, it was ultimately ruled out of order by the Rules Committee, allowing VIDA to remain.
Ms. Stefanik said her next step is to work with the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and House Armed Services Committee, of which she is a member, to remove the bill or find other solutions during the upcoming bicameral NDAA conference.
The U.S. Senate version of the NDAA does not include VIDA, and Ms. Stefanik’s spokesman, Tom Flanagin, said it is unlikely VIDA will be added to the Senate bill as an amendment. He noted that Ms. Stefanik will also work with members of the Senate to attempt to ensure the bill does not appear in the finalized NDAA.
Along with trying to change VIDA’s language, Ms. Stefanik has moved forward with a pair of other bills aimed at combatting invasive species.
On Wednesday, Ms. Stefanik introduced the Stamp Out Invasive Species Act, which would direct the U.S. Postal Service to issue a “Combatting Invasive Species Semipostal Stamp.” Proceeds from the sale of the stamp will be used to fund Department of Agriculture and Department of the Interior programs designed to fight invasive species.
Additionally, Ms. Stefanik introduced a resolution expressing the House’s commitment to combatting invasive species.
In her announcement on the House floor, Ms. Stefanik highlighted the effects invasive species have on ecosystems in the north country and throughout the state.
“Given our unique position as both the gateway to the Great Lakes and center of international shipping trade, our state has the unfortunate distinction of being a principle point of entry for many invasive species,” she said, adding that invasive species contribute to $100 billion in losses annually.
Ms. Stefanik has pursued invasive species legislation since taking office.
In February, she held a summit in Clayton with representatives from Save the River, The Fund for Lake George and Canada to discuss ways to combat the problem, including returning the St. Lawrence River to natural water flows.