Position Papers

Uniform Regulation of Ballast Water


Ballast water regulations that are protective of the environment, maintain efficient waterborne
commerce on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway, and are binationally compatible and equitable.


Vessel discharges, such as ballast water, are critical to maintain safe and efficient operations.  The maritime industry has a long history of establishing best management practices and technical innovations to ensure the Great Lakes ecosystem is protected.  However, ensuing legal battles opened the door for each state and multiple federal agencies to establish their own regulatory regimes that were often conflicting and impossible to meet.  Great Lakes stakeholders pushed for a better way.

The Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA) established that long-sought process to set uniform federal discharge requirements jointly regulated by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG). On October 26, 2020, the USEPA published the proposed Vessel Incidental Discharge National Standards of Performance to implement VIDA. The proposal included general standards as well as vessel-specific standards for 20 discharges incidental to the normal operation of a vessel.  The USEPA proposal does not require any vessels operating exclusively on the Great Lakes (“lakers”) to meet the numeric ballast water discharge standard. In general, GLMTF supports this regulation, including how ballast water is regulated in the Great Lakes.  The USEPA has not taken any further actions regarding the proposed standards. GLMTF continues to engage with the USEPA to provide any information needed. 

GLMTF also supports a petition submitted by the Lake Carriers’ Association to the Federal Maritime Commission on March 6, 2020, citing unfair practices by the Government of Canada in requiring U.S.‑flagged lakers to install a ballast water management system on any vessel that wishes to trade in Canada, even if that is a U.S.-flagged vessel bringing U.S. cargoes and not discharging any ballast water in Canadian waters. 

Canada finalized their regulations on June 16, 2021. The Canadian regulation places an undue burden on the U.S.-flagged Great Lakes fleet by requiring equipment that has not been tested in the Great Lakes and that is operationally incompatible with vessels trading in Canada.  The estimated compliance cost for the U.S.-flagged Great Lakes fleet is $778M (2022$).  The Canadian fleet owns 90 percent of binational trade.  The Canadian regulation would decimate U.S.-flagged lakers and hand the remaining trade to the Canadian fleet.  Forcing this equipment on vessels not discharging in Canadian waters and without any evidence of operability and effectiveness is absurd.


Continue to work with the USEPA, USCG, the eight Great Lakes states, and other stakeholders to develop federal vessel discharge regulations for the Great Lakes, as authorized in VIDA.  Ensure they align with the operational requirements of the U.S.-flagged Great Lakes fleet and are protective of the Great Lakes.  Work with our federal partners to revise the Canadian regulations and make them fair and compatible with U.S. requirements.