Friday, August 26, 2011

OPINION: The Enemy of Good

By John Berge, Vice President Pacific Merchant Shipping Association

It has been 15 years since the publication of the National Research Council’s Stemming the Tide – Controlling Introductions of Nonindigenous Species by Ship’s Ballast Water. It pulled the lid off the uncomfortable reality that ballast water, which is so essential to keeping ships upright and in one piece, could also be the source of bio-invaders causing havoc in port ecosystems around the planet.

A lot has changed in those 15 years, beginning with the adoption of ballast water management for virtually all vessels, and now the next leap forward with installation of ballast water treatment systems. This technology has made enormous strides in just the last few years, achieving organism reductions on the order of 10,000 times the source ballast water. While we now have a good idea of the capabilities of ballast water treatment, just as importantly we better understand the limitations of this technology, and our ability to measure success.

Unfortunately, public policy adopted in California has failed to keep pace with science, and we are now seeing the classic situation of the pursuit of perfection becoming the enemy of the good.

California legislatively adopted discharge standards in 2007. Those standards are essentially 1,000 times more stringent than the International Maritime Organization D-2 and the pending US Coast Guard Phase 1 standard. We have watched patiently as time has passed, hoping that treatment technology could advance to the point of meeting California’s aspirational standard before 2012, when the vast majority of new-builds will be require to meet that standard.

Although there has been mounting evidence over the last couple of years as to the limitations of both treatment and testing methodologies, it was the publication of the US EPA Science Advisory Board’s (SAB) report in July that put the question of treatment system capabilities to rest. The SAB report was unequivocal in its findings: while 5 types of ballast water management systems (BWMS) demonstrated the ability to meet the IMO D-2 standard, “no current BWMS types can meet a 100x or 1,000x discharge standard”.

One would think that the findings of the nation’s ballast water experts would settle this issue, but the staff of the California State Lands Commission (Commission) continues to cling to the existing state standard. Rather than recommend changing it to reflect reality, they are instead recommending that the state maintain its unfeasible and immeasurable standard – and as a way out, develop a compliance verification protocol for their standard that ensures full compliance by industry.

In other words, they are going to fake it – which they essentially acknowledge. All of this effort comes at a time of a much-publicized effort by California state legislators to review unnecessary and redundant regulations.

We appreciate the Commission staff’s desire to keep ship owners on the right side of the law, but who benefits from an unattainable standard that can be complied with only through false compliance verification? Certainly not the people of California, who deserve to know the real implications of ballast water discharges into state waters as opposed to a misleading and false sense of security from a faked standard. Nor does the ship owner, who is ultimately liable under the federal Clean Water Act, for meeting a discharge standard that the world’s scientists have concluded cannot be met by any system available for installation.

The State Lands Commissioners have the opportunity on September 1 to recognize the realities for treating ballast water discharges, and recommend the adoption of the IMO standards that truly represent the best mitigation that today’s technology can achieve. To do otherwise will be to ignore accepted science and put California on the wrong side of this debate.