11.06.20

SCHUMER, GILLIBRAND: 30 DAYS IS INSUFFICIENT FOR PUBLIC TO REVIEW NEW EPA RULE FOR DISCHARGES FROM COMMERCIAL VESSELS THAT WILL IMPACT THE GREAT LAKES FOR GENERATIONS; SENATORS URGE FEDS TO EXTEND WRITTEN COMMENT PERIOD & HOLD VIRTUAL HEARINGS TO ALLOW NY RESIDENTS SUFFICIENT TIME TO VOICE CONCERNS ABOUT PROPOSED FEDERAL BALLAST WATER RULE

EPA’s Newly Unveiled Vessel Incidental Discharge Rule Would Establish National Standards Of Performance For Incidental Discharges From Commercial Vessels 

Senators Say Proposed Rule Must Be Thoroughly Vetted By Public & Experts, Given Its Potential Impact On The Great Lakes, The Environment, And The Lives Of Millions Of New Yorkers 

Schumer, Gillibrand To EPA: Proposed Ballast Water Rule Needs Time For “Pier” Review To Ensure Maximum Benefit To Great Lakes

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today called on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to extend the written comment period and hold at least one virtual hearing for the proposed Vessel Incidental Discharge National Standards of Performance, which would establish national standards of performance for incidental discharges, such as ballast water, from primarily commercial vessels under the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA).

The proposed rule was published in the Federal Register on October 26 and members of the public currently have until November 25 to submit public comments, a total of 30 days, which Schumer and Gillibrand say is insufficient for the public to review a rule that will impact the Great Lakes, the environment and millions of New Yorkers for generations. Therefore, the senators are urging the EPA to extend the comment period to total 90 days, which will give members of the public sufficient time to voice their concerns as they face new challenges and disruptions as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Great Lakes are the crown jewel of the Northeast, and they provide drinking water, recreation, and jobs for Upstate New York,” said Senator Schumer. “We must do everything we can to reduce pollution in in this vital water system, including from ballast discharge, to preserve the quality of our Great Lakes so residents and visitors can enjoy these invaluable resources for years to come.”

Schumer added, “As the Lakes are such an important natural resource for so many New Yorkers, the public has the right to voice their opinions on any rule changes that could impact the ecosystem. The EPA must immediately extend the comment period on the Vessel Incidental Discharge National Standards and give New Yorkers the chance to have their concerns heard.”

“The public must be given more time to fully review and comment on the Vessel Incidental Discharge National Standards,” said Senator Gillibrand. “This proposed rule could have a significant impact on the communities, water quality, and environment in the Great Lakes region, and we must ensure that residents have sufficient time to voice their concerns. Extending the comment period is in the best interest of New Yorkers and the EPA must immediate extend the deadline to ensure that local communities have their voices are heard.” 

Currently, ballast water management requirements in the Great Lakes are among the strictest in the world. The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and their Canadian counterpart require all ships destined for the Great Lakes from outside the exclusive economic zone to exchange their ballast at sea. If the ships have failed to do so, they are required to retain the ballast water on board, pump the ballast water ashore, and treat the ballast water in an environmentally approved process or they are required to return to sea to conduct a ballast water exchange.

Schumer and Gillibrand explained that with the newly proposed Vessel Incidental Discharge National Standards, the main concern is that the change to ballast water management requirements will introduce new aquatic invasive species into the Great Lakes or spur the rapid proliferation of existing ones, possibly significantly impacting the health of the Lakes and the economies they support. These concerns, the senators explained, deserve sufficient time and consideration before the standards are adopted.

The Vessel Incidental Discharge National Standards are required by VIDA, which was signed into law in December of 2018. VIDA restructures how EPA and the USCG regulate incidental discharges into U.S. waters.

Senator Schumer and Senator Gillibrand’s letter to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, sent along with eight other senators, appears below:

Dear Administrator Wheeler,

As Senators representing Great Lakes states, we write to urge the EPA to extend from 30 to 90 days the comment period for the proposed Vessel Incidental Discharge National Standards (EPA-HQ-OW-2019-0482). It is imperative that people and stakeholders have sufficient time to review and comment on a rule of such profound importance to the wellbeing of the Great Lakes.

A curtailed 30-day comment period is woefully inadequate for a rule of this magnitude, particularly as the public continues to confront new challenges as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. Executive Order 12866 suggests that a 60-day comment period is the minimum necessary to afford the public a meaningful opportunity to comment during normal times. With several Great Lakes states experiencing increasing cases and continued disruption as a result of the pandemic, more time is needed for people and stakeholders in the Great Lakes region to participate in this rulemaking process. Moreover, the complexity and importance of this rulemaking requires sufficient time for review and comment before final adoption.

The proposed standards are of vital interest to the Great Lakes, which comprise the largest freshwater ecosystem on Earth and contain 20% of the world’s freshwater supply. They provide drinking water to over 40 million people and support a $7 billion fishing industry and expansive recreation and tourism economies. Fending off the introduction of new and the spread of existing aquatic invasive species is critical to ensuring the health of these waters and the economies they support.

In addition to providing a longer comment period, we also urge the EPA to host at least one virtual public hearing dedicated to the rule’s impacts on the Great Lakes. To maximize participation, the virtual hearing should include the option for video conferencing and call in. The technology to do so is readily available and should be employed.

Thank you for your consideration of these requests.

Sincerely,

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