Saturday, December 3, 2011

Draft Vessel Permits For Large & Small Commercial Vessels

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is issuing two draft vessel general permits that would regulate discharges from commercial vessels, excluding military and recreational vessels. The proposed permits are intended to protect the nation’s waters from ship-borne pollutants and reduce the risk of introduction of invasive species from ballast water discharges.

The draft Vessel General Permit, which covers commercial vessels greater than 79 feet in length, would replace the current 2008 Vessel General Permit, when it expires in December 2013. The new draft Small Vessel General Permit would cover vessels smaller than 79 feet in length and would provide such vessels with the Clean Water Act permit coverage they will be required to have as of December 2013.

Both permits will be subject to a 75-day public comment period. EPA intends to issue the final permits in November 2012 to allow vessel owners and operators time to prepare for new permit requirements.

Summary of Draft Vessel General Permit:
The updated permit would reduce the administrative burden for vessel owners and operators, eliminating duplicative reporting requirements, clarifying that electronic recordkeeping may be used instead of paper records, and streamlining self-inspection requirements for vessels that are out of service for extended periods. The permit would continue to regulate the 26 specific discharge categories that were contained in the 2008 permit and, for the first time, manage the discharge of fish hold effluent.

A key new provision of the permit is a proposed numeric standard to control the release of non-indigenous invasive species in ballast water discharges. The new ballast water discharge standard addressing invasive species is based upon results from independent EPA Science Advisory Board and National Research Council National Academy of Sciences studies. These limits are generally consistent with those contained in the International Maritime Organization’s 2004 Ballast Water Convention. The new standard is expected to substantially reduce the risk of introduction and establishment of non-indigenous invasive species in U.S. waters.

The draft Vessel General Permit also contains updated conditions for mechanical systems that may leak lubricants into the water and exhaust gas scrubber washwater, which would reduce the amount of oil and other pollutants that enter U.S. waters. EPA will take comment on potentially more stringent requirements for bilgewater discharges.

Summary of Draft Small Vessel General Permit:
This permit would be the first under the Clean Water Act to address discharges incidental to the normal operation of commercial vessels less than 79 feet in length. Recognizing that small commercial vessels are substantially different in how they operate than their larger counterparts, the draft Small Vessel General Permit is shorter and simpler. The draft permit specifies best management practices for several broad discharge management categories including fuel management, engine and oil control, solid and liquid maintenance, graywater management, fish hold effluent management and ballast water management, which consists of common sense management measures to reduce the risk of spreading invasive species. The permit would go into effect at the conclusion of a current moratorium enacted by Congress that exempts all incidental discharges from such vessels, with the exception of ballast water, from having to obtain a permit until December 18, 2013.

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