On July 31, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper filed our official comment on the US Coast Guard's proposed cargo sweeping regulation. We recommended that the Coast Guard reject the proposed regulation and allow its interim enforcement policy to simply expire. We recommended this because of our fears that the new regulation might undermine â€“ rather than complement â€“ existing environmental protections.
When ships on the Great Lakes dump waste material into the water, it is called â€œcargo sweepingâ€? or â€œdry cargo discharge.â€? The actual quantity of waste material dumped into the lakes in a single shipping season is astounding. In 2004-2005, U.S.-flag carriers dumped more than 653,000 pounds of iron ore, 219,000 pounds of coal, 228,000 pounds of limestone and 11,300 pounds of other material into the Great Lakes.
The Coast Guard's proposed rule â€“ which has been in place as an â€œinterim enforcement policyâ€? since 1997 â€“ would encourage cargo-sweeping in certain areas. That means more waste dumped into the Great Lakes and more foreign substances piling up on our lakebeds.
Cargo sweeping is illegal under Canadian law. Depositing deleterious substances like limestone, coal or iron ore violates the Fisheries Act. Fines range up to $1-million a day. The Canadian Shipping Act also prohibits discharges of pollutants into the lake.
Cargo sweeping is illegal under Ontario law, as well. The Ontario Public Lands Act strictly forbids depositing any material onto public lands without a permit, including lakebeds. Fines range up to $10,000 plus $1000 for each day that the material remains on the public lands. The Ontario Environmental Protection Act also prohibits dumping waste into the Great Lakes.
Many people don't seem to recognize that the new cargo-sweeping regulation contradicts four different Canadian laws. A 2003 study by the Coast Guard even suggested that cargo sweeping is not prohibited in Canada, and that â€œminimizingâ€? discharges would surely bring offenders into compliance. Waterkeeper pointed out this error in our July comment.
Waterkeeper also wrote that the proposed regulation fails to uphold the terms of the U.S-Canada Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. The rule doesn't help the two countries harmonize environmental protections. It doesn't even consider coal, iron ore, and other cargo wastes to be toxic, hazardous, or garbage.
If it passes, the Coast Guard's regulation would signal a departure from the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. Canadians would also have to prepare themselves for the inevitable push to relax our own rules so they reflect the new regulation.
If the Coast Guard's regulation doesn't pass, the interim enforcement policy will quietly expire. There will be no need to relax other rules and agreements. And traditional clean water statutes will once again set the standards for shipping practices on the Great Lakes.
For more information: Waterkeeper's comment to the US Coast Guard