Statement of G. Tracy Mehan, III
Assistant Administrator for Water
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Before the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Water

Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works

June 17, 2003

 

Good morning, Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee.  I am Tracy Mehan, Assistant Administrator for Water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  I appreciate and welcome this opportunity to discuss the provisions of S. 525, and to consider the continuing challenges ahead to protect water quality, human health and the environment against invasive species.

 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

The Environmental Protection Agency shares the Subcommittee’s concerns about protecting the Nation’s waters against invasive species.  We commend the Subcommittee and others for bringing attention to the problems and threats created by invasive species.  As you may know, I came to EPA from Michigan, the Great Lakes State, where interactions among over 160 known aquatic invaders have severely affected the local ecosystem structure.  Introductions can create new competition, change trophic levels, alter habitat and impact species interaction.  Invasive species have become one of the greatest threats to U.S. waters and ecosystems.  In fact, invasive species are regarded by biologists worldwide as the second greatest threat to biodiversity, behind habitat loss.  Invasive species are also a costly economic problem, causing the United States billions of dollars worth of damage each year. 

 

The complexity of the freshwater, estuarine and marine ecosystems, combined with the increased rate of unwanted introductions and more susceptible environments, contributes to making invasive species a major challenge in U.S. waters.  Invasive species can successfully invade aquatic ecosystems through a wide variety of pathways, including but not limited to vessel activities, aquaculture, aquarium trade, fish stocking, live bait, and research activities. 

 

Most recently, vessels have been the major focus for invasive species issues.  As ballast water is drawn into a ship, living organisms are removed from their native water environment and brought on board the vessel.  Then these organisms may be discharged into a new environment.  Survival in a new environment is based on a number of physical, chemical and biological factors, such as temperature, salinity, and the presence of other organisms that might prey upon the invaders.  Advanced ship technology is also playing a role in invasive species survival by allowing ships, and any hitch-hiking organisms, to travel faster and farther.  It is estimated that more than 10,000 marine species (e.g., zebra mussel, Asian clam, green crab) are transported each day in ballast water, allowing new invasions to occur regularly in coastal waters. 

 

Other vessel vectors that are of great importance are hull fouling, i.e., organisms attached to the hull, and No Ballast on Board or (NOBOB) vessels.  NOBOB vessels contain sediments and water slurry that is unpumpable and may get resuspended and discharged. Studies indicate that NOBOB vessels can carry viable organisms in the sediment and residual ballast water, creating additional opportunities for the establishment of invasive species.  Over the past 9 years, approximately 85 % of all ships entering the Great Lakes via the St. Lawrence Seaway have been NOBOB vessels.  The remaining 15% of the vessels entering the Great lakes were required to perform ballast water management.  However, the Great Lakes are still being invaded by non-indigenous species, at an average of one invader every eight months.  Approximately fifteen new species have invaded the Great Lakes since mid oceanic exchange of ballast water was mandated in 1993.  This is the same number of invasions that occurred during the 1970s and 1980s, indicating that current ballast water management efforts are not completely effective.  Overall, the current rate of invasions in the Great Lakes is 66 percent higher than one hundred years ago. 

 

The impacts of invasive species are immediate and often irreversible.  If left unchecked, the number, density, and rates of species transfers are expected to increase, and along with them, impacts on our ecosystem, socio-economic well-being, and human health.  Prevention, reduction, and eradication are all integral parts of dealing with invasive species.  Prevention is critical to success, as once invasive species have become established, eradication is often not an available or successful tool.  In order to be most effective, we need an integrated national response.  We need management programs, including regulatory and non-regulatory approaches, rapid response efforts, early-warning systems, development of control technologies, research, monitoring and education.  Aggressive efforts are vital, otherwise introductions will continue to destroy our native environments and our coastal resources.

 

 

EPA ACTIVITIES

 

Faced with the scope and magnitude of this threat, our collective efforts to develop policies, conduct research and make programmatic decisions, informed by rigorous scientific and technical studies, are crucial.  The control of invasive species is important to EPA, and we look to our partners in the U.S. Coast Guard, other Federal agencies, States and Tribes, and the port and shipping industries to move expeditiously to help us meet this major challenge to the health of our nation’s coastal and ocean resources.  We look forward to expanding our partnerships as we make progress against these invaders.

 

EPA continues to work with the Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force, chaired by U.S. National Ocean and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and the National Invasive Species Council on issues ranging from the national and international control of ballast water discharges to the regional management and control of individual invasive species. As a member of the U.S. delegation on the Marine Environment Protection Committee to the International Maritime Organization, EPA is helping to negotiate an international ballast water treaty and standard to address ballast water discharges from ocean-going vessels.

 

EPA is also assisting the Coast Guard in the development of mandatory ballast water management regulations and in the development of standards for ballast water discharge.  These regulations are vital to our ongoing efforts to prevent invasions from ballast water discharges.  EPA has helped to prepare the environmental analysis for the management rule, and we will be assisting in the development of the EIS for the standards rule.  This spirit of cooperation is not only mutually beneficial to our agencies, it enhances our ability to address this difficult problem.

 

EPA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD), in partnership with other agencies and organizations, is involved with numerous invasive species research activities, including developing models which could help to identify which ecosystems are more susceptible to invasions.  These models are being developed to identify the multiple stressors on a particular ecosystem that could increase its vulnerability. 

 

The Environmental Technology Verification (ETV) Program is another example of our cooperative efforts with Coast Guard and the private sector.  The Coast Guard is interested in developing testing protocols to support its efforts to establish treatment standards and the certification of ballast water treatment systems.  Such treatment systems may allow for safer alternatives to the current practice of open ballast exchange.  The ETV Program will test new ballast water treatment and management technologies as they become available in the market.  This EPA program was created as a means to accelerate the acceptance of new environmental technologies in the marketplace through the independent verification of vendor performance claims of any treatment system for any discharge of concern. 

 

EPA also has developed partnerships for continued research and action regarding invasive species.  The partnerships involve State and local resource management agencies, non-profits, the National Estuary Program (NEP), and universities.  The NEPs, in particular, have numerous activities that play a key role in targeting many of the challenges from invasive species.  NEPs have established partnerships in education and outreach, and have contributed to the development of rapid assessments and baseline inventories for invasive species.  NEPs also have played an integral role in developing model monitoring and rapid response programs for invasive species.  EPA has used Clean Water Act Funding for these and other activities that address invasive species.  We believe this is consistent with Section 101 (a) of that Act, which states, “The objective of this chapter is to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.”

 

Partnerships and collaborative efforts are key to combating invasive species.  I am encouraged by the multi-faceted opportunities for partnerships that we have within EPA, among Federal agencies, with the States and Tribes, and with multiple industry and community representatives.

 

 

S. 525

 

The bill under consideration by this Subcommittee introduces many actions intended to help address the issue of invasive species.  For example, the bill addresses the risk of invasion through vectors other than ballast water.  The bill also acknowledges EPA’s expertise and involvement in responding to the challenge.

 

The goals and concepts behind the actions set forth in S. 525 are beneficial to combating invasive species.  However, the time lines and authorizations provided are of significant concern.  An average rule can take 4 to 7 years to complete and that does not take into account the complexity of the invasive species issue.  The bill introduces many actions in addition to the new regulations.  If possible, the actions should be prioritized to appropriately use the authorized funding in the bill.  As the bill stands now, it will be difficult to complete all of the actions, without at least full appropriation of the authorized funding. 

 

The bill appears to identify many of the same actions for a number of different agencies.  Although agencies need to work together to combat the issues of invasive species, different agencies should have different responsibilities so as not to duplicate work efforts.   In addition to the duplicative work efforts, it is difficult to determine which agency has the primary role in some of the actions.

 

The bill provides for sediment management in transoceanic vessels to be included as a best management practice.  The bill also recognizes the importance of addressing potential introductions of invasive species from no-ballast-on-board (NOBOB) vessels, particularly in light of the volume of such vessels in the Great Lakes.

 

The bill also addresses the issues of ballast water standards.  Specifically, it sets an interim standard of 95 percent removal, which we believe raises a number of technical issues.  Removal relies on laboratory testing which raises technology maintenance and durability issues.  Percent removal also does not adequately address large volume discharges, because discharging 5 percent of a tanker ship’s volume could still release millions of organisms per liter.  We believe that the standards should be based on concentration and size of organism, similar to discussions with the international community.  Having an interim and a final standard could have the unintended effects of stalling development of a final standard or misdirecting technology development away from more environmentally protective approaches.  EPA is also concerned that the Bill identifies and designates both EPA and the Coast Guard as regulating authorities, one for each standard.  EPA and the Coast Guard would like the opportunity to work further with the Subcommittee in order to clarify specific agency roles, and  define a more appropriate schedule, and discuss the need for an interim standard.  We would also be happy to provide further technical assistance on this bill.  We also note that new spending authorized by this bill that is not currently included in the President’s Budget, and as such, these actions must be considered within existing priorities.

 

 

CONCLUSION

 

Tremendous progress  has been made by EPA and our many Federal, State, Tribal, local, and private partners in cleaning up our waters over the last decade.  EPA’s experience in addressing difficult issues regarding the health of our environment can help us protect them from these harmful invaders.  We at EPA appreciate your support and commitment to these vital goals, and look forward to continuing a collaborative effort to protect and restore our Nation’s waters.

 

This concludes my prepared remarks. I would be happy to address any questions you may have at this time.