Regulatory Mussel

Many things come across my desk at OMB.  To offer a flavor:  the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) at OMB just completed review of a proposed rule from the U.S. Coast Guard that would establish a new, protective standard for ballast water discharge from vessels in U.S. waters.  The rule would represent a significant step toward protecting our waters from the spread of invasive species.

Now, you might be wondering:  What is ballast water?  And why are we concerned about its discharge from ships?  Ballast water is water that is taken onboard a ship and stored in tanks to help keep the vessel stable while at sea.  It is often discharged when cargo is on-loaded while the ship is anchored in port. The problem is that ballast water may contain organisms that are not native to the area where it is released – and, once established, these invasive species can threaten native species and ecosystems, through predation, disease, and competition for resources.  For example, many believe that the zebra mussel, which is native to the Black and Caspian Seas, was first introduced into North American waters through ballast water discharges; it has now colonized each of the Great Lakes and many major U.S. rivers.  Not only do zebra mussels threaten native ecosystems, but they do millions of dollars a year in economic damage—including by clogging water intake pipes for many types of industrial facilities.   

The Coast Guard’s new rule proposes a two-phase approach to upgrading our national ballast water standards so they become comparable to the most stringent state standards currently in place, such as those in California and New York.  Under phase one, beginning in 2012 for new vessels, compliance with the standards adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) would be mandated; under phase two, the allowable concentrations of organisms in ballast water would be reduced 1,000 fold relative to the IMO standards.  These phase-two standards would be implemented for both new and existing vessels starting in 2016.

If you’d like more information about this proposed rule, including how to comment on it, I encourage you to visit  Information about the rule can be found under docket number: USCG-2001-10486.  Comments are due November 27, 2009.  The U.S. Coast Guard also plans to host public meetings that will be held to gather comments about the rulemaking.

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