House Debates Coast Guard Bill Seeking National Ballast Water Discharge Standard

Turn to the nation's most objective and informative daily environmental news resource to learn how the United States and key players around the world are responding to the environmental...

By Amena H. Saiyid

The House Nov. 4 began consideration of a Coast Guard authorization bill that would establish a national technology-based standard to treat ballast water discharges from commercial ships.

The language in the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2011 (H.R. 2838) would require the Environmental Protection Agency and the Coast Guard to issue final ballast water regulations based on the International Maritime Organization's standard for ballast water management.

That means commercial vessels would have to install treatment technology for discharges before releasing them into U.S. waterways, according to Justin Harclerode, Republican spokesman for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

The regulations, which would be revised every 10 years based on technology advancements, would direct EPA as to how to revise its existing National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System ballast water permit, which expires in December 2012. The agency is preparing a new permit and is expected to issue a draft this month.

The ballast water provision in the bill also would supersede any individual state standards.

Debate to Resume Week of Nov. 14

The House left for a weeklong recess before completing its consideration of the bill. Sponsored by Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.), H.R. 2838 will be taken up by the House when it returns Nov. 14. The bill H.R. would authorize U.S. Coast Guard programs for fiscal years 2012-2014.

The provisions in H.R. 2838 mirror the language of the Commercial Vessel Discharges Reform Act of 2011 (H.R. 2840), which the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee unanimously adopted Oct. 13, according to Harclerode (199 DEN A-18, 10/14/11).

H.R. 2838 would apply to all commercial vessels except commercial recreational vessels less than 79 feet in length. Commercial fishing vessels also would remain permanently exempt, but the bill would require EPA and the Coast Guard to establish best management practices for ballast water discharge from commercial fishing vessels.

Bid to Allow Tougher State Standards Fails

The House on Nov. 4 defeated an amendment offered by Rep. Timothy Bishop (D-N.Y) that would allow states, such as New York, to impose more stringent standards than the national standard prescribed in H.R. 2838.

Bishop had unsuccessfully offered an identical amendment to H.R. 2840 when the Transportation Committee was considering that particular legislation.

In fact, the ballast water provisions in H.R. 2838 would supersede the standards that 26 states, two Native American tribes, and one U.S. territory already have established, as well as the proposed ballast water discharge rule issued by the Coast Guard in August 2009 that also was based on IMO's ballast water standards.


Text of the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2011 is available at http://www.rules.house.gov/Media/file/CCH_839_xml_2.pdf .