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EPA Considers How to Develop Vessel Discharge Permit Program

Release Date: 06/20/2007
Contact Information: Dale Kemery, (202) 564-4355 / (Other inquires – Deborah Nagle, (202) 564-1185 /

(Washington, D.C. - June 20, 2007) The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is seeking information as it considers how to develop a water permit program for pollutant discharges incidental to the normal operation of commercial vessels and recreational boats. Discharges may include ballast water, bilge water, deck runoff and gray water.

As a result of a court ruling currently under appeal, vessel owners or operators whose discharges previously have been exempt from Clean Water Act requirements will require a permit on Sept. 30, 2008. In developing this program, EPA will seek to ensure that control technologies or management practices enhance environmental protection and are practical to implement.

Approximately 143,000 commercial vessels and potentially more than 13 million state-registered recreational boats and more than 25 different types of vessel discharges could be affected. The exemption from permitting requirements has been in place for more than 30 years.

The changes are the result of a recent U.S. district court ruling that found EPA exceeded its authority by excluding discharges incidental to the normal operation of a vessel from existing permitting requirements. The agency is appealing that ruling.

"While EPA's position is that an exemption from Clean Water Act permitting is proper, we also share concerns about the significant impacts of aquatic invasive species," said Assistant Administrator for Water Benjamin H. Grumbles. "We will continue working with other federal agencies to identify the most effective, protective, and practical strategies for controlling invasive species from ballast water under existing laws."

EPA is seeking public comments and data to help the agency develop a permitting framework that recognizes various vessel characteristics and types of discharges. Specifically, EPA needs information about vessel identification and operations, owner notification, discharge impacts, pollution control equipment and practices, and commercial and recreational vessel traffic patterns. Comments and data are due within 45 days of publication of the notice. The agency will identify and categorize:

  • the universe of vessels
  • their discharge characteristics
  • pollution control equipment or best management practices

Documents related to the rulemaking petition and the court ruling: