Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Vessel Discharge Reform Legislation Before Congress

A bipartisan bill to set uniform standards for regulating ballast water and other incidental discharges from vessels, and clarify requirements for fishermen and other small boat users is now before the US Senate.

The Vessel Incidental Discharge Act, introduced March 6 by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-FL, and Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, has 20 Democrat and Republican co-sponsors include Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska,

Begich chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and the Coast Guard and Rubio is a ranking member.

Vessel discharge is most often rainwater and other runoff that accumulates on deck.

The Coast Guard and Environmental Protection Agency currently regulate ballast water under separate, sometimes inconsistent federal statues and implementing regulations, Begich said. EPA regulation under the Clean Water Act also opened the door for states to establish their own varying standards and requirements for incidental vessel discharges.

The aim of their legislation is to have one uniform set of environmentally sound standards in place, he said.

“It sets a national standard for ballast water and other discharges and significantly tightens these rules over time,” Begich said. “It gives a permanent exemption for fishermen and other small boat owners who are not considered part of the problem.

The Vessel Incidental Discharge Act would establish ballast water treatment requirements set by the Coast Guard in 2012 as the uniform national standard governing ballast water discharges by vessels. By 2022, the Coast Guard and EPA would be required to issue a revised rule that is 100 times more stringent than the initial ballast water treatment standard. And if a more stringent state ballast water treatment standard is determined to be feasibly achievable, detectable and commercial available the more stringent standard would be adopted as the uniform national standard.

The legislation would exempt incidental discharges by commercial vessels of less than 79 feet, fishing vessels including seafood processors, and recreational vessels, as well as discharges that occur for research, safety or similar purposes.

In the US House, meanwhile, commercial fisheries groups from Florida to the Pacific Northwest have rallied around the Commercial Vessel Discharges Reform Act of 2013, introduced by Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J., which was incorporated into the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2014 in mid-February.

The commercial fisheries coalition said that without this legislation they would be exposed to yet another layer of permitting and regulation, a layer they said is unwarranted and would impose an unnecessary bureaucratic burden on an already overburdened fleet.

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