I want to thank Chairman Crapo and Ranking Member Graham for holding today’s hearing on S. 525, the National Aquatic Invasive Species Act, that Senator Collins and I as well as 16 other Senators introduced in the Senate and Representatives Gilchrest and Ehlers introduced in the House. The purpose of this bill is to reauthorize the Nonindigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act and to take a more comprehensive approach towards addressing aquatic nuisance species to protect the nation’s waters. This bill deals with the prevention of new introductions, the screening of new aquatic organisms coming into the country, the rapid response to new invasions, and the research to implement the provisions of this bill.
The problem of aquatic invasive species is a very real one to coastal and inland waterways. More than 6,500 non-indigenous invasive species have been introduced into the United States and have become established, self-sustaining populations since the days of colonization. These species – microorganisms, pathogens, plants, fish and animals – typically encounter few, if any, natural enemies in their new environments. The result are often ecologically and economically disastrous.
Some of my colleagues may remember that back in the late eighties, the zebra mussel was released into the Great Lakes through ballast water. The Great Lakes still have zebra mussels, and now, 20 states–as far West as Idaho–are fighting to control them. Zebra mussels have changed the dynamics of the Great Lakes. They have decimated native mussels, allowed toxins to reenter into the food chain, and may be responsible for creating hypoxic conditions or a “Dead Zone” in Lake Erie. Many of our beaches are littered by zebra mussel shells, and it is estimated that electrical generation, water treatment, and industrial facilities spend tens of millions of dollars every year combating the zebra mussel.
The legislation before you is needed now. It’s needed to provide direction to the U.S. negotiators at the International Maritime Organization, to create a national ballast water standard rather than the patchwork of state efforts, and most importantly to move a ballast water management program forward.
The best effort that we have against invasive species is prevention. While the U.S. Coast Guard has the authority under existing law to significantly increase the nation’s efforts to prevent the introduction of aquatic invasive species through the largest pathway of introduction–ballast water–there has been very little progress to move towards technology that is as effective as ballast water exchange. By requiring the Coast Guard and EPA to set interim and final ballast water management standards, this legislation allows ballast water technology to develop to a known standard. This bill requires the Coast Guard to set an interim standard that would require ships entering a U.S. port from outside the Exclusive Economic Zone to either use ballast water exchange or use technology that reduces the number of living organisms in ballast tanks by 95%.
This interim standard in this bill is not intended to be implemented for the long run, and it is not perfect. However, a final standard is difficult to set today or in the near future because of the limited research that has been conducted on how clean or sterile ballast water discharge should be and what is the best expression of a standard. Rather than wait many more years before taking action to stop new introductions, I believe that an imperfect but clear and achievable interim standard for treatment technology is the right approach. This interim standard will lead to the use of ballast treatments that are more protective of our waters than the default method of ballast water exchange provides, and it can be implemented in the very near future. Further, the bill provides the Coast Guard with the flexibility to promulgate the interim standard using a size-based standard or by whatever parameters the Coast Guard determines appropriate.
There are many other important provisions of the bill designed to prevent and respond to invasive species. All in all, the bill would cost between $160 million and $170 million each year. This is a lot of money, but it is a critical investment. However, compared to the estimated $137 billion annual cost of invasive species, the cost of this bill is minimal. As those of us facing the havoc caused by invasive species know, the ecological and economic damage that invasive species can cause is high.