March 12, 2014

Senator Warren Co-sponsors Legislation to Establish Uniform National Standards on Vessel Incidental Discharges

Bill Would Exempt Smaller Fishing, Research, and Recreational Vessels from Discharge Requirements

 Fact Sheet on the Legislation

WASHINGTON, DC - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D - Mass.) has co-sponsored legislation that would require the Coast Guard, in consultation with the EPA, to establish and implement uniform national standards and requirements on ballast water and other discharges related to normal vessel operation. This bipartisan bill, the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act, was introduced by Senators Mark Begich (D - Alaska) and Marco Rubio (R - Fla.). The legislation would restore the a longstanding exemption for fishing boats, charter boats, and other small vessels from onerous requirements and liability.

"I'm pleased to support the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act, which would strengthen and streamline complicated discharge regulations while ensuring that commercial fishing boats, charter fishing operators, and other small commercial vessels are not unnecessarily burdened," said Senator Warren. "We must take steps to preserve and protect our coastal waters, while also making sure Massachusetts' vessel owners can continue to operate efficiently without the unintended liability of unnecessary fines and lawsuits."

In 1973, when the EPA first implemented the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) pursuant to section 402 of the Clean Water Act, the Agency categorically exempted vessels from the prohibitions and permitting requirements of NPDES.  This exemption remained in place until 2005, when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a federal district court ruling that the EPA's 32-year-old regulatory exemption was beyond the Agency's scope of authority under the Clean Water Act.  As a result the Coast Guard, which also regulates ballast water under the National Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act of 1990, and the EPA are now both regulating ballast water under separate, sometimes inconsistent federal statutes and implementing regulations.  

Additionally, for the first time commercial vessel owner/operators are now required to have an EPA permit simply to operate their vessels.  This complicated, inefficient, and confusing patchwork of federal and state requirements will only continue to grow until one set of environmentally sound standards is put in place.     

The Vessel Incidental Discharge Act would create national, uniform standards on ballast water discharges and replace the current patchwork system of complicated federal and state standards. These standards developed under the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act would be based on the best available technology that is economically achievable for states, and would continually be evaluated every ten years.