Environmental Protection Agency signs a proposed rule for reducing the environmental impact of discharges
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a news release on 7 October 2020 stating that it has signed a proposed rule that will reduce the environmental impact of discharges, such as ballast water, that are incidental to the normal operation of commercial vessels. When finalized, this new rule will streamline the current patchwork of federal, state, and local requirements that apply to the commercial vessel community and better protect marine waters while supporting commercial marine vessels.
The EPA is seeking to establish national standards of performance for incidental discharges from commercial vessels as required under the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA). The proposed rule establishes a new framework for the regulation of discharges. It includes discharge-specific standards for 20 different types of vessel equipment and treatment systems. Importantly, the new framework consolidates 25 of the 27 discharges currently under the Vessel General Permit. The EPA has also clarified that the scope of water for VIDA implementation is the US contiguous zone which extends to 12 miles from the coastline. In terms of ballast water management, technical infeasibility criteria and the proof required to indicate such infeasibility has been left to the US Coast Guard to develop over the next two years. Ballast water management regulations are also covered including Best Achievable Technology. However, the proposed rule does not recommend any technological changes.
Significantly, individual states in the US are no longer able to impose additional requirements with respect to ballast water management which will mean that ballast water permit requirements from certain states in the Great Lakes will no longer be necessary. The EPA has also chosen to accept IMO standards and not impose additional requirements on vessel operators for discharges related to scrubbers. Under the new proposed rule, the minimum pH requirement in wash water discharged will be raised to 6.5 for ships using open-loop EGCS, which is consistent with IMO requirements. The EPA has also stated that there are insufficient grounds to consider the prohibition of open-loop scrubbers in US waters at this time, despite the operation being prohibited by other nations.
Members should note that until the rule making process is complete and the US Coast Guard publishes regulations for implementation and compliance under VIDA (not expected until 2022), the current interim requirements will remain in force, including compliance with the 2013 Vessel General Permit requirements.
The official proposal has yet to appear in the Federal Register.