Ballast water regulation in the United States

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Ballast water discharge from other sides of the world cause a certain type of pollution different from an emission type pollution as it introduces invasive species that can literally cause domestic species to go extinct.

Ballast water discharge typically contains a variety of biological materials, including plants, animals, viruses, and bacteria. These materials often include non-native, nuisance, exotic species that can cause extensive ecological and economic damage to aquatic ecosystems. Ballast water discharges are believed to be the leading source of invasive species in U.S. marine waters, thus posing public health and environmental risks, as well as significant economic cost to industries such as water and power utilities, commercial and recreational fisheries, agriculture, and tourism.[1] Studies suggest that the economic cost just from introduction of pest mollusks (zebra mussels, the Asian clam, and others) to U.S. aquatic ecosystems is more than $6 billion per year.[2]

The zebra mussel, native to the Caspian and Black Seas arrived in Lake St. Clair in the ballast water of a transatlantic freighter in 1988 and within 10 years spread to all of the five neighbouring Great Lakes. The economic cost of this introduction has been estimated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at about $5 billion.

Congress passed the National Invasive Species Act of 1996 (NISA) in an attempt to control aquatic invasive species. The Coast Guard issued ballast water regulations, pursuant to NISA, in 2012. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued discharge permits for controlling ballast water under Clean Water Act authority.

United States regulation of ballast water discharge[edit]

Northwest Environmental Advocates, et al. v. U.S. EPA[edit]

Because of the growing problem of introduction of invasive species into U.S. waters via ballast water, in January 1999, a number of conservation organizations, fishing groups, native American tribes, and water agencies petitioned EPA to repeal its 1973 regulation exempting ballast water discharge under the Clean Water Act (CWA). They argued that ballast water should be regulated as the “discharge of a pollutant” under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program. EPA rejected the petition in September 2003, saying that the “normal operation” exclusion is long-standing agency policy, to which Congress has acquiesced twice (in 1979 and 1996) when it considered the issue of aquatic nuisance species in ballast water and did not alter EPA’s CWA interpretation. Further, EPA said that other ongoing federal activities related to control of invasive species in ballast water are likely to be more effective than changing the NPDES rules.[3] Until recently, these efforts to limit ballast water discharges by cruise ships and other vessels were primarily voluntary, except in the Great Lakes. Since 2004, all vessels equipped with ballast water tanks must have a ballast water management plan.[4]

After the denial of their administrative petition, the environmental groups filed a lawsuit seeking to force EPA to rescind the regulation that exempts ballast water discharges from CWA permitting. In March 2005, a federal district court ruled in favor of the groups, and in September 2006, the court remanded the matter to EPA with an order that the challenged regulation be set aside by September 30, 2008.[5] The district court rejected EPA’s contention that Congress had previously acquiesced in exempting the “normal operation” of vessels from CWA permitting and disagreed with EPA’s argument that the court’s two-year deadline creates practical difficulties for the agency and the affected industry. Significantly, while the focus of the environmental groups’ challenge was principally to EPA’s permitting exemption for ballast water discharges, the court’s ruling — and its mandate to EPA to rescind the exemption in 40 CFR §122.3(a) — applies fully to other types of vessel discharges that are covered by the regulatory exemption, including graywater and bilge water.

In June 2007, EPA initiated steps seeking public comment on regulating ballast water discharges from ships, an information-gathering prelude to a potential rulemaking in response to the district court’s order. In 2008 the Agency published a general permit regulating vessel discharges. The permit contained requirements to use best management practices for controlling ballast water, but did not include numeric pollutant discharge limits.[6]

To minimize the spread of invasive species in U.S. waterways, EPA and the Coast Guard developed plans to regulate the concentration of living organisms discharged in the ballast water of ships.[7] A June 2011 National Research Council study provided advice on the process of setting these limits. The study found that determining the exact number of organisms that could be expected to launch a new population is complex. It suggested an initial step of establishing a benchmark for the concentrations of organisms in ballast water below current levels, and then using models to analyze experimental and field-based data to help inform future decisions about ballast water discharge standards.[8]

2008 EPA Vessel General Permit (VGP)[edit]

In response to the court ruling, the EPA created a Vessel General Permit drafted in June of 2008 and finalized in December 2008 covering the incidental discharges of all commercial and non-recreational vessels, and recreational vessels longer or equal to 79 feet.[9]

Clean Boating Act of 2008[edit]

Senate Bill stating recreational vessels of any size are not required to get a NPDES permit for incidental discharges to normal vessel operation.[10]

2012 Coast Guard Standards for Ballast Water Discharge Final Ruling[edit]

Congress passed the National Invasive Species Act in 1996.[11] Organisms targeted by NISA are categorized as aquatic nuisance species, including in particular zebra mussel and the Eurasian ruffe. NISA authorizes regulation of ballast water, a key factor in the spread of aquatic invasive species. The Coast Guard issued ballast water regulations, pursuant to NISA, in 2012.[12] The Coast Guard requires ballast water treatment systems[13][14] and began approving these systems in 2016.[15] The requirements generally apply to all non-recreational vessels equipped with ballast tanks.[16]

Before the final ruling in ballast water standards in 2012, many vessels arriving from outside the EEZ were able to be exempted from safety regulations by exhanging ballast water mid-ocean. Vessels also had to report number of ballast water tanks, each tank's volume, and origin of the ballast water to be discharged. Areas overrun with invasive species should be avoided for both uptake and discharge of ballast water.[17]

The new regulations have the same requirements for avoiding uptake and discharge in sensitive areas and for recording and reporting ballast water in vessels. The management of ballast water were expanded to include training and safety procedures as well as maintenance and removal practices of foulding species and sediment. Ship owners could also request an extension on the compliance date for this new ruling if compliance was not possible by the set implementation date, which for new vessels was Dec 1, 2013, for existing vessels of less than 1,500 cubic meters or greater than 5,000 cubic meters was Jan 1, 2016, and for vessels 1,500-5000 cubic meters was Jan 1, 2014.[18]

This ruling also implemented standards for the allowable concentration of living organisms in ballast water discharge. Organisms greater than 50 micrometers have to be in concentration of less than 10 organisms per cubic meter, and organisms less than 50 but greater than 10 micrometers have to be in concentration of less than 10 organisms per mililiter. Microorganisms which serve as indicators for problematic ballast water also have set standards per 100 mL. There must be less than 1 colony forming unit toxicogenic Vibrio cholerae, less than 250 cfu of E. coli, and less than 100 cfu of intestinal enterococci.[18]

Also established by this ruling was the approval process of Ballast Water Management Systems. Independent laboratories vetted by USCG test the equipment, incorporating EPA Environmental Technology Verification Program land-based protocols. For foreign-type approved systems installed before the compliance dates, a 5-year grandfather period was inacted, so long as the systems were approved in accordance with IMO Ballast Water Convention by the foreign administration.[19][20]

This ruling's jurisdiction covers the US territorial sea (12 nautical miles), and vessels that depart the Great Lakes, go beyond the EEZ, and return, passing upstream of Snell Lock.[18]

2013-2014 EPA general permits[edit]

EPA published its latest Vessel General Permit (VGP) in 2013.[21] The permit sets numeric ballast water discharge limits for commercial vessels 79 feet (24 m) in length or greater. The limits are expressed as the maximum acceptable concentration of living organisms per cubic meter of ballast water. Approximately 69,000 vessels, both domestic and foreign flagged, are covered by the permit.[22] EPA issued a separate permit for smaller commercial vessels in 2014.[23][24]

The Coast Guard worked with EPA in developing the scientific basis and the regulatory requirements in the VGP.[21]

Howard Coble Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2014[edit]

As the previous moratorium stating no NPDES permits shall be required for discharges (except discharges of ballast water) for vessels less than 79 feet expired in Dec 2014, the Senate enacted a new bill in 2014 preventing the EPA from requiring general vessel permits once again for incidental discharge. This Act exempted vessels smaller than 79 feet in length as well as commercial fishing vessels of all sizes from having to obtain an NPDES permit for incidental discharges, except for ballast water.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Statement of Catherine Hazelwood, The Ocean Conservancy, “Ballast Water Management: New International Standards and NISA Reauthorization,” Hearing, House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, 108th Cong., 2nd sess., March 25, 2004.
  2. ^ David Pimentel, Lori Lach, Rodolfo Zuniga, and Doug Morrison, “Environmental and Economic Costs Associated with Non-indigenous Species in the United States,” presented at AAAS Conference, Anaheim, CA, January 24, 1999.
  3. ^ Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Final National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) General Permit for Discharges Incidental to the Normal Operation of a Vessel, Federal Register (2008), Vol 73, No. 249.
  4. ^ Coast Guard, DHS. "Mandatory Ballast Water Management Program for U.S. Waters." Federal Register. N.p., 28 July 2004. Web.
  5. ^ Northwest Environmental Advocates v. EPA, No. C 03-05760 SI (N.D.Cal, September 18, 2006.
  6. ^ U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Washington, D.C. (2008-12-29). "Final National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) General Permit for Discharges Incidental to the Normal Operation of a Vessel." Federal Register. 73 FR 79473.
  7. ^ U.S. Coast Guard. "Ballast Water Management." Accessed 2013-09-15.
  8. ^ National Research Council (2011). "Assessing the Relationship Between Propagule Pressure and Invasion Risk in Ballast Water." Water Science and Technology Board. Washington, DC: National Academies Press. ISBN 978-0-309-21562-6.
  9. ^ EPA. Final National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) General Permit for Discharges Incidental to the Normal Operation of a Vessel (2008).
  10. ^ Clean Boating Act. S. 288, 110 Cong., 2650 (2008) (enacted).
  11. ^ United States. National Invasive Species Act of 1996. Pub.L. 104–332. Approved October 26, 1996.
  12. ^ U.S. Coast Guard, Washington, D.C. "Standards for Living Organisms in Ships’ Ballast Water Discharged in U.S. Waters." Federal Register, 77 FR 17254, 2012-03-23. Code of Federal Regulations, 33 CFR Part 151, Subparts C and D.
  13. ^ "Subpart 162.060—Ballast Water Management Systems". U.S. Coast Guard. December 6, 2016.  Code of Federal Regulations, 46 CFR 162.060.
  14. ^ "Ballast Water Management Program". U.S. Coast Guard. Retrieved December 8, 2016. 
  15. ^ "Marine Safety Center issues Ballast Water Management System (BWMS) type-approval certificate to Optimarin AS". U.S. Coast Guard. December 2, 2016. 
  16. ^ U.S. Coast Guard. "Part 151—Vessels Carrying Oil, Noxious Liquid Substances, Garbage, Municipal Or Commercial Waste, and Ballast Water." 33 C.F.R. 151.1502; 33 C.F.R. 151.2010
  17. ^ "Ballast Water Management Program". U.S. Coast Guard. Retrieved March 16, 2017.
  18. ^ a b c [1]
  19. ^ "Subpart 162.060—Ballast Water Management Systems". U.S. Coast Guard. December 6, 2016. Code of Federal Regulations, 46 CFR 162.060.
  20. ^ "Marine Safety Center issues Ballast Water Management System (BWMS) type-approval certificate to Optimarin AS". U.S. Coast Guard. December 2, 2016.
  21. ^ a b EPA (2013-04-12). "Final National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) General Permit for Discharges Incidental to the Normal Operation of a Vessel." Federal Register. 78 FR 21938.
  22. ^ "Vessels-VGP". NPDES. EPA. 2016-05-13. 
  23. ^ EPA (2014-09-10). Final National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Small Vessel General Permit for Discharges Incidental to the Normal Operation of Vessels Less Than 79 Feet. Federal Register. 79 FR 53702.
  24. ^ "Vessels-sVGP". NPDES. EPA. 2016-05-13. 
  25. ^ [3]

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