Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Fednav et al., v. Steven E. Chester (MI DEQ)

Nov 21: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit, Case No. 07-2083. In the case of Fednav et al., v. Steven E. Chester, et al, the Appeals Court unanimously upheld the U.S. District Court, Eastern District, Southern Division decision of Judge John Feikens [Case No. 07-11116, See WIMS 8/16/07] that ruled that Michigan's Ballast Water Statute, Mich. Comp. Laws § 324.3112(6), is constitutional. The case challenging the Michigan law was brought by nine shipping companies and associations. Defendants in the case were Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) Director Steven Chester and Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox. Four environmental and conservation organizations intervened in the case supporting the State's position including: Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC); Alliance for the Great Lakes (Alliance); National Wildlife Federation (NWF); and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

In summary, the Appeals Court said, "We hold that Plaintiffs lack standing to challenge one portion of the statute, and reject their arguments as to its remainder. We therefore affirm." The Appeals Court summarized the Federal regulations that exist and why Michigan felt compelled to adopt its own, separate law. The Court said, ". . . to summarize, the Coast Guard’s ballast-water regulations applicable to the Great Lakes have remained essentially unchanged since 1993. Vessels entering the Great Lakes carrying ballast water from outside the EEZ [exclusive economic zone] must either conduct a mid-ocean ballast-water exchange before discharging ballast water into the Great Lakes, or retain their ballast water. NOBOB [No Ballast On Board] vessels are essentially unregulated with respect to their ballast-water practices. They are thus free to take on ballast water in the Great Lakes, mix it with any sediment or residual water in their tanks, and then discharge the mixture into the Great Lakes."

The Appeals Court explains the argument of the Plaintiffs saying, "Each of these Plaintiffs seeks, in this Court at least, to challenge two distinct provisions of the Michigan Ballast Water Statute. First, they challenge the statute’s requirement that all 'oceangoing vessels engaging in port operations in' Michigan obtain a permit (the 'permit requirement'). Mich. Comp. Laws § 324.3112(6). Second, they challenge the requirement -- applicable only to oceangoing vessels that discharge ballast water in Michigan -- that they employ a treatment system approved by the MDEQ as a safe and effective means of preventing the discharge of ANS (the 'treatment requirement')."

Plaintiffs include four shipping companies: Fednav, Limited, Canadian Forest Navigation Company, Limited, Baffin Investments, Limited, and Canfornav, Incorporated (the “Shipping Companies”). They include three shipping associations: the Shipping Federation of Canada, the Seaway Great Lakes Trade Association, and the United States Great Lakes Shipping Association (the “Shipping Associations”). They also include a port terminal, Nicholson Terminal and Dock Company (“Nicholson”), and a port association, The American Great Lakes Ports Association (the “Ports Association”).

The Appeals Court then considers whether each of the Plaintiffs has standing to challenge each of these requirements, i.e. the permit requirement and the treatment requirement. The Appeals Court determines that the Shipping Companies and each of the Shipping Associations has standing to challenge the permit requirement, but Nicholson and the Ports Association do not.

On the treatment requirement, the Court says, "'virtually all' of Plaintiffs’ ships do not discharge ballast water in Michigan. And to the extent that Plaintiffs do not so discharge, they are not even subject to the treatment requirement, much less harmed by it. . . And none of them have remotely alleged that they have taken any action, much less an injurious one, in compliance with the treatment requirement. The complaint is conspicuously silent on that point. Second, and more fundamentally, we simply will not strain to construe the complaint to say by negative implication what it very simply could have said directly. . . We instead hold fast to the 'longsettled principle that standing cannot be inferred argumentatively from averments in the pleadings, but rather must affirmatively appear in the record.'”

Thus the Appeals Court determines that, "The only claims over which we have jurisdiction, then, are those of the Shipping Companies and the Shipping Associations (hereinafter, 'Plaintiffs') with respect to the permit requirement." The Appeals Court conducts a rigorous analysis of preemption issues and determines that, ". . . we know that Congress contemplated ANS [aquatic nuisance species] prevention measures 'in the Great Lakes region that are not conducted pursuant to this chapter.' Id. § 4723(a)(1)(D) (emphasis added). That leaves only the question whether the reference to ANS prevention measures 'not conducted pursuant to this chapter' includes measures conducted by the states. For several reasons, we believe that it does. . . The permit requirement does not conflict with NISA [National Invasive Species Act of 1996] or the Coast Guard’s regulations promulgated pursuant to it. The requirement therefore is not preempted by federal law."

The Court also rejects a claim by Plaintiffs that the Michigan law violates the so-called “dormant” Commerce Clause by burdening interstate commerce and a "due process" claim and concludes, "Michigan, for undisputedly legitimate reasons, has enacted legislation of a type expressly contemplated by Congress. We have no basis to disrupt the result of those democratic processes. The August 15, 2007 order of the district court is affirmed."

Alliance vice president for policy, Joel Brammeier, praised the court's ruling saying, “We’re pleased with this confirmation of the states’ authority to protect the Great Lakes from invaders. While the federal government spent 2008 sitting on its hands, this decision reinforces the only real line of defense we have right now -- state action to shield the Great Lakes from these biological threats.”

Access the Appeals Court decision (
click here). Access the complete 32-page district court opinion (click here). Access MDEQ's Ballast Water Reporting website for extensive information (click here). Access legislative details for PA 33 of 2005 (click here). Access a release from the Alliance (click here). Access various media reports on the decision (click here).