This week, on December 4, 2018, President Trump signed into law the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA): Title IX of the Frank LoBiondo Coast Guard Reauthorization Act of 2018. VIDA establishes a new framework for the regulation of vessel incidental discharges, adding a new Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 312(p): Uniform National Standards for Discharges Incidental to Normal Operation of Vessels. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) are still assessing the implications of this new law but several important points are provided below.
Vessel General Permit (VGP)
The VGP will not be reissued but the existing 2013 VGP requirements remain in force and effect beyond the current expiration date of that permit until such time that new regulations are finalized and enforceable. Specifically, the provisions of the 2013 VGP, as currently written, apply until EPA publishes National Standards of Performance (NSPs) and the USCG develops implementing regulations for those NSPs (~ 4 years).
Note: An email sent from EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management to stakeholders on October 10, 2018 indicated that EPA would be late in reissuing the 2013 VGP and specified that new vessels would be unable to obtain coverage under that permit after December 18, 2018. The email strongly encouraged operators to submit any Notices of Intent (NOIs) for coverage under that permit prior to that date. However, as a result of VIDA, NOIs can be submitted after December 18, 2018, consistent with the 2013 VGP requirements (i.e., operators must submit NOIs at least one week prior to discharging in waters subject to the permit).
Small Vessel General Permit (sVGP)
The sVGP is repealed effective immediately. Specifically, discharges incidental to the normal operation, except for ballast water, from small vessels (i.e., less than 79 feet in length) and commercial fishing vessels of all sizes no longer require National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit coverage. Thus, permit coverage for any vessel covered under the sVGP is automatically terminated. No further action on the part of vessel operators is required to complete this termination.
Any small vessel or commercial fishing vessel covered under the sVGP that will discharge ballast water into waters of the U.S. must obtain permit coverage under the VGP for those ballast water discharges.
Look for further updates in the coming months on the implications of this new CWA Section 312(p): Uniform National Standards for Discharges Incidental to Normal Operation of Vessels.
For additional updates, please visit https://www.epa.gov/npdes/vessels