Group Sues EPA for Not Updating Rules For Vessel Discharges of Sewage

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By Amena H. Saiyid  

April 30 — The group Friends of the Earth is suing the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to respond to a 2009 petition to update nearly 40-year-old rules governing treated sewage discharges from a marine vessel of any length that is equipped with a toilet.

In an April 30 complaint filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the group claimed the EPA violated the Administrative Procedure Act by failing to respond to the group's petition seeking to update performance standards required under Section 312 of the Clean Water Act.

Specifically, the petition asked the EPA to update its 1976 performance standards for marine sanitation devices (MSDs) installed on vessels of any length to reflect cost-effective improvements in sewage treatment technologies.

The group, in the petition, also asked the EPA to establish monitoring, recordkeeping and reporting requirements to ensure compliance with the updated standards.

Section 312 of the Clean Water Act requires the use of operable, U.S. Coast Guard-certified marine sanitation devices for vessels that are equipped with installed toilets and operating on U.S. navigable waters, including the three-mile territorial seas.

A marine sanitation device is any device or process used to receive, retain, treat or discharge sewage.

As the complaint notes, the EPA in 2010 did seek comment on the Friends of the Earth petition in a Federal Register notice but failed to take any “substantive action” afterwards (75 Fed. Reg. 39,683).

More Than 70,000 Vessels

According to the complaint, the EPA estimates that about 60,000 domestic vessels and about 12,400 foreign-flagged vessels at least 79 feet and larger operate in U.S. waters subject to Clean Water Act jurisdiction.

The Lake Carriers Association, which represent 17 U.S. companies that operate 57 U.S. vessels or “lakers” along the Great Lakes, maintained their objection to updating the standards, as they did back in 2010 in response to the EPA's notice.

In an April 30 e-mail to Bloomberg BNA, LCA President James Weakley said he empathized with the environmental group's frustration over the EPA inaction but said “I do not believe the MSD standards need to be updated.”

He said the LCA fleet continues to operate Coast Guard-approved sanitation devices. In addition to the annual inspections conducted by both the U.S. and Canadian governments, Weakley said, the LCA fleet operators inspect marine sanitation devices to ensure that the equipment meets or exceeds the standards.

“I am not aware of any vessel discharging untreated or inadequately treated sewage and find it a stretch to claim that vessel based MSD effluents contribute to beach closings,” Weakley said.

LCA Vice President Glen Nekvasil, in a separate e-mail to Bloomberg BNA, concurred with Weakley that the Friends of the Earth petition was aimed more at cruise ships that carry thousands of passengers as opposed to the LCA ships that typically carry about 25 people.

To contact the reporter on this story: Amena H. Saiyid in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at

The complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for District of Columbia in Friends of the Earth v. EPA is available at

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