The State of New York has finally backed away from a controversial set of ballast water regulations on ships transiting New York waters that had threatened tens of thousands of jobs throughout the Great Lakes region of Canada and the United States. By yesterday afternoon it had become clear that the office of Governor Andrew Cuomo had become engaged on the issue and had directed the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NYDEC) to back down from its untenable previous stance on regulating the ballast water management practices of ships sailing to or through the state’s waters.
The change in policy was signaled in a letter sent to shipowners indicating the regulations that had previously been in place would be shelved until December 19, 2013, at date that coincides with the expiration of the current Vessel General Permits issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. On November 30, 2011 the EPA revealed a proposal for a new Vessel General Permit (VGP2) to replace the current permit.
Yesterday’s move by the Empire State government seems to indicate that New York is more likely to participate in a single, unified national ballast water standard consistent with the guidelines of the International Maritime Organization, rather than the go-it-alone approach favored by the state’s most radical environmental groups and some NYDEC bureaucrats in Albany.
The news was greeted with great relief and applause by Great Lakes-Seaway maritime industry leaders who were appreciative of Governor Cuomo’s more rational approach to the issue of ballast water management and environmental protection. The news came to industry leaders at a meeting of the Great Lakes-Seaway Coalition held at Cleveland’s Union Club yesterday shortly after a presentation given by Rep. Betty Sutton (D-OH). A universally expressed sentiment at that meaning was one of gratitude to Governor Cuomo for engaging on the issue by focusing on protecting maritime industry jobs and supporting effective environmental controls rather than hewing the line of the more radical and absolutist environmental groups. Great Lakes-Seaway Coalition leaders also cited the good works of Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-OH) and Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) who highlighted the issue on Capitol Hill. Governors John Kasich of Ohio, Mitch Daniels of Indiana and Scott Walker of Wisconsin were also praised for reaching out to Governor Cuomo on the ballast water issue.
Praise for New York’s policy reversal was not limited to leaders attending the Great Lakes-Seaway Coalition conference. Washington DC’s Embassy Row, a nickname for the stretch of Massachusetts Avenue in the nation’s capitol, which is home to many the embassies of foreign nations, greeted the news with enthusiasm. The government of Canada, as well as the governments of the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Belgium and Switzerland have all been either directly engaged in the issue or watching anxiously and hoping cooler heads would prevail in Albany.
Yesterday's result tells us that, in fact, cooler heads and the power of sound reason and science did prevail. There is a way to protect both Great Lakes-Seaway maritime industry jobs and the environment and Governor Cuomo seems to understand and embrace that approach. For that, we should all be thankful.