Monday, June 16, 2008

EPA Proposes Vessel Discharge Permits

Jun 16: U.S. EPA is proposing two general permits under the Clean Water Act (CWA) that will cover "discharges incidental to normal operation" of commercial and recreational vessels. Based on agency estimates, as many as 91,000 commercial vessels and about 13 million recreational boats could be affected. Assistant Administrator for Water Benjamin Grumbles said, “EPA is proposing a practical approach as we work with Congress on a longer-term, comprehensive solution. We believe it is good environmental policy and common sense to promote clean boating without imposing new permits on millions of boaters.”

As a result of a court ruling currently under appeal, vessel owners or operators whose discharges have previously been exempt from Clean Water Act requirements for the last 35 years will require a permit as of September 30, 2008. EPA is proposing control technologies and management practices that enhance environmental protection and are practical to implement.

According to EPA, the commercial and large recreational vessel general permit (VGP) would cover all commercial vessels and recreational vessels 79 feet or longer. For vessels that carry ballast water, it would incorporate the Coast Guard mandatory ballast water management and exchange standards, and have supplemental ballast water requirements. The VGP would provide technology-based and water-quality-based effluent limits for other types of discharges including deck runoff, bilgewater, gray water and other types of pollutants. The permit also establishes specific corrective actions, inspections and monitoring requirements as well as recordkeeping and reporting requirements. Only a subset of the vessels potentially affected by this permit will have to submit a Notice of Intent (NOI) for coverage; for all the other vessels their coverage would be automatic.

The permit for smaller recreational vessels measuring less than 79 feet in length contains simpler provisions. These smaller vessels, which are substantially different in both size and operation from larger vessels, would need to comply with new and established best management practices. In addition, these smaller vessels would not be required to submit an NOI for coverage under the permit; their coverage would be automatic.

EPA is inviting comments on both proposed permits for a period of 45 days. The Agency will be holding public meetings starting June 19, in Washington, DC, and a hearing on July 21, also in DC. Additional meetings are scheduled for June 24 - Portland, OR; June 26 - Chicago; and a July 2 - public Webcast meeting.

On June 12, the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, Chaired by Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), held a hearing on discharges incidental to the normal operation of a commercial vessel, and the implications of such discharges under the CWA [See WIMS 6/13/08].

Access a release from EPA (
click here). Access EPA's Vessel Discharges website for links to complete background and prepublication copies of the Federal Register notices. Access the House hearing website for links to the testimony, opening statements, background information and a webcast (click here). [*Water]