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March 28, 2013
EPA issues final vessel general permit
By Amanda Czepiel, JD, Senior Managing Editor

The EPA has issued the 2013 vessel general permit (VGP) under the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permitting program. This permit applies to nonrecreational vessels greater than 79 feet operating in a capacity as a means of transportation. The small Vessel General Permit (sVGP), which will authorize discharges incidental to the normal operation of nonmilitary and nonrecreational vessels less than 79 feet in length, is expected to be issued later this year.

The 2013 VGP replaces the 2008 VGP, which expires in December 2013. The sVGP will be a new permit that goes into effect in December 2013, which is the conclusion of Congress’s moratorium exempting all incidental discharges from small vessels, with the exception of ballast water, from having to obtain a permit.

The draft permits were proposed in November 2011. The vessel permits were developed in response to a March 2005 U.S. District Court of the Northern California ruling that EPA regulation excluding discharges incidental to the normal operation of a vessel from NPDES permitting exceeded EPA’s authority under the Clean Water Act, a decision that was upheld by the 9th Circuit in July 2008.

VGP Revisions

The updated VGP was revised to reduce the administrative burden on vessel owners and operators by eliminating duplicative reporting requirements, clarifying the terms for electronic recordkeeping, and streamlining self-inspection requirements for vessels that are out of service for extended periods. The permit continues to regulate the 26 specific discharges that the 2008 permit covered, but now also regulates the discharge of fish-hold effluent.

In addition, the new VGP adds a numeric standard to control the release of nonindigenous invasive species in ballast water discharges. Lastly, the new VGP also contains updated conditions for mechanical systems that may leak lubricants into waters and exhaust gas scrubber wash water.

The EPA estimates that there are approximately 72,000 vessels that may be covered by the VGP.

Obtaining VGP coverage

To obtain coverage under the VGP, the EPA is not requiring all regulated vessel owners and operators to submit Notices of Intent (NOIs), but rather, in order to ease the administrative burden due to the large number of regulated vessels, is requiring NOI submission for vessels that are greater or equal to 300 gross tons or that have the capacity to hold or discharge more than 8 cubic meters (2,113 gallons) of ballast water. Other regulated vessels are covered under the VGP without NOI submission.

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