Advocacy groups in March reached a deal with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in a legal dispute over discharges of ship ballast water that could contain invasive species.
The agreement requires the EPA to issue a new permit regulating ballast dumping by commercial vessels. "Over the years, ballast water has brought many invasive species to the Great Lakes and has had many devastating effects on the ecosystem," says Jennifer Birchfield, water program director for Save the Dunes in Michigan City.
A dozen environmental groups sued the EPA in 2009, arguing the fed's permit did not go far enough in protecting the Great Lakes and coastal waters. "The Great Lakes have been global ground zero for freshwater invasions for decades," says Joel Brammeier, president and CEO of the Alliance for the Great Lakes in Chicago, one of the groups involved in the suit. "U.S. EPA's first cut at a permit didn't even come close to stemming the onslaught. We're heartened the agency appears to be getting serious about preventing new invasions before they happen."
Ballast water is the leading culprit for invasive species in U.S. waters such as zebra mussels. Invasives compete with native species for food and cause billions in economic losses.