WASHINGTON — State Sen. Darrel J. Aubertine, under fire in his back yard for opposing New York's ballast water regulations, has an ally to the north — the Canadian government.
The government of Canada has asked the U.S. State Department to intervene in New York's implementation of the ballast regulations, which would require ships stopping in or passing through New York waters to be outfitted with ballast treatment systems far more advanced than international shipping standards recommend.
New York's regulations "could have the effect of shutting down access to the St. Lawrence Seaway" unless shipping companies are granted exemptions promptly, warned Heather Grant, director general of the North American Policy Bureau at Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
The regulations are set to take effect in January 2012, although shipping companies have applied for extensions and industry representatives say the rules probably cannot be enforced.
Ms. Grant wrote to the State Department on Aug. 16. The State Department has yet to reply but has told Canadian officials that several agencies, including the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corp., have been asked to sign off before an answer is sent, said Paul Arvanitidis, transportation counselor at the Canadian Embassy in Washington.
Ballast water, which ships carry to provide balance, is a major source of invasive species entering the Great Lakes from foreign waters. And while ships are required to take on salt water ballast at sea to reduce the threat, industry sources agree that on-board treatment systems may ultimately be the best weapon.
The Canadian government asked how the federal Clean Water Act applies to ships that cross U.S. waters without plans to discharge ballast water, and for more information about how New York will grant exemptions for existing vessels — exemptions that state officials have put off since promising more details in August, the American Great Lakes Ports Association reported.
Canadian officials also asked the U.S. government to help identify available treatment systems that could meet the standard in New York's regulation, which is 100 times greater than standards recommended by the International Maritime Organization for existing ships, and 1,000 times stronger for vessels to be built after the law is implemented.
"Our efforts to date have not been successful in identifying such technology," Ms. Grant wrote.
Ms. Grant also asked the State Department to consider referring the issue of ballast standards to the U.S.-Canada International Joint Commission, which advises the countries and helps set policies for their shared waters.
At the heart of Canada's concern is the prospect that New York's regulations will discourage shippers from using the Seaway or shut them out entirely because they cannot meet the standard for numbers of organisms found in ballast water. The St. Lawrence is the entry point for all ocean-going vessels coming into the Great Lakes, meaning New York's regulations affect ship-borne trade from New York to Minnesota.
"This could significantly disrupt and/or increase the cost of transporting industrial inputs such as iron ore and grain to the industries of the Great Lakes region, and thereby lead to the disruption to sectors of the economy that employ thousands of people in our respective countries," Ms. Grant wrote.
Even if the rules are not enforced at the implementation date — the state does not have a system in place for inspecting ships, and the U.S. Coast Guard has told shipping groups it will not enforce state laws — ships may be effectively barred by insurance policies that prohibit violating regulations, the U.S. Great Lakes Ports Association reported.
Echoing complaints from the shipping industry, the Canadian government said it supports ballast water standards to prevent the spread of invasive species and believes measures already in place have reduced the number of new species entering the Great Lakes. No new species have been reported since 2006, Ms. Grant wrote.
But supporters of New York's regulations, written by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, point to the threat from invasive species and the government's slow response.
Save the River, the Clayton environmental group, has been especially critical of Mr. Aubertine, D-Cape Vincent, for questioning the DEC's policy. On Wednesday, Save the River Executive Director Jennifer J. Caddick wrote to Mr. Aubertine, pointing to the damage invasive species cause and his district's heavy reliance on tourism. Changes in the ecosystem have led to botulism outbreaks and to the fouling of local beaches by algae, including at Wilson's Beach in the senator's home town, she wrote.
"From a strictly economic perspective, your opposition to the State of New York's ballast regulations hardly seems to benefit jobs in your district," Ms. Caddick wrote. "The importance of tourism to the economy of upstate New York far outweighs that of commercial shipping. In fact, in Oswego County there are more than twenty times as many jobs supported by tourism than by the Port of Oswego."
Without tougher standards, Ms. Caddick warned, companies will not develop the types of systems capable of stopping the threat of invasive species. "We have seen time and again that the shipping industry will not clean up their act until forced to by government regulatory action and public pressure," she wrote.