EPA Proposes Vessel Discharge Permits

June 19, 2008

On June 16, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced proposed rules relating to  issuance of permits for  vessels’ overboard discharges of liquids under the Clean Water Act. The press release is quoted below. The proposed rule also contains record keeping requirements. Violation of the rules will expose vessel operators to penalties and the record keeping requirements will have the potential for criminal charges if the records are falsified.   The proposed rule is being promulgated in response to a judicial decision striking down the long standing exemption the EPA had granted vessels from the Act’s requirements for permits to discharge effluents into the navigable waters of the United States.  Both our maritime and environmental law sections will be pleased to discuss with you issues this new rule raises. Please contact Fred Kuffler with your inquiries.

(Washington, DC – June 16, 2008) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing two general permits under the Clean Water Act 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.

“EPA is proposing a practical approach as we work with Congress on a longer-term, comprehensive solution,” said Assistant Administrator for Water Benjamin H. Grumbles. “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.

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 record keeping and reporting requirements. Only a subset of the vessels potentially affected by this permit will have to submit a Notice of Intent 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 a Notice of Intent for coverage under the permit; their coverage would be automatic.

EPA is inviting comments on both proposed permits for a period of 45 days. EPA will be holding public meetings and a hearing starting June 19.

June 19 – Washington, DC meeting
June 24 – Portland, Oregon meeting
June 26 – Chicago, Illinois meeting
July 2 – public Webcast meeting
July 21 – Washington, DC hearing

Information on the permits and meetings: