Reject Republicans’ plan to allow invasive species in the Columbia: Guest opinion (Oregon Environmental News)

Reject Republicans’ plan to allow invasive species in the Columbia: Guest opinion


In a single year, ships plying the Columbia River have dumped more than a billion gallons of ballast water into the river.

Because more than 80 percent of the river’s ship traffic comes from hundreds of foreign ports it’s an unavoidable fact that their ballast waters contain non-native species and even disease-causing microbes.

But that doesn’t mean those invasive species must be discharged into our waters.

Under the U.S. Clean Water Act and Oregon law, shippers must treat their ballast water before discharging it into our waterways. Yet those critical protections would be eliminated under a provision hidden in a Republican draft of a routine bill to reauthorize U.S. Coast Guard operations that’s slated for consideration on the floor of the U.S. Senate as early as next week.

The sneaky provision, which comes in response to long-standing pressure from the shipping industry, would not only wipe out Clean Water Act rules overseeing ship discharges, but also would forbid states from enforcing their laws governing ballast water releases. 

Instead, shippers would only be required to meet far less-stringent international standards for ballast discharges.

With our very reasonable but protective clean water rules out of the way, shippers will no longer be required to upgrade their treatment technology to meet our evolving water conditions and standards. And no longer would shippers be required to comply with the terms of ballast release permits or submit reports demonstrating that compliance.

While providing a lucrative handout to shipping interests, the bill ignores the well-established environmental and economic costs of invasive species.

Each ballast discharge can contain as many as 4,000 species, ranging from larger fish and crabs to tiny viruses and bacteria, including microbes capable of spreading cholera. In all, the invasive species cost the nation more than $6 billion each year. If anything, all the evidence suggests our ballasts water standards aren’t tough enough.

Invasive green crabs from Europe already have spread from San Francisco Bay up the Oregon coast to Puget Sound. They’ve caused Manila clam harvests in California’s Humboldt Bay to drop by 40 percent and destroyed native eel grass critical to a range of Northwest species.

Thankfully, the Republican’s so-called Vessel Incidental Discharge Act is being fought by conservation-minded leaders like Oregon’s own Sen. Jeff Merkley. These are leaders who know it would be absurdly dangerous to get rid of long-proven protections, let alone to prohibit states from protecting their own waters.

They understand that the Republican push to let the shipping industry pollute U.S. waters while individual taxpayers and local businesses are left to pick up the tab and repair the damage is nothing less than a deplorable corporate handout. 

But the biggest and most far-reaching cost would be damage to local waters and native Northwest species — damage that would last for generations, if not forever.

Nina Bell, J.D., is executive director of Northwest Environmental Advocates. In 1999, NWEA petitioned the EPA to regulate ship discharges under the Clean Water Act. Tierra Curry is a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Portland office, where her work focuses on protecting and recovering freshwater plants and animals threatened with extinction.


via Oregon Environmental News

November 9, 2017 at 06:25AM

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