2/1/2019: Vessel Incidental Discharge Act

From the desk of Rear Adm. John Nadeau, assistant commandant for prevention policy

The Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA) was signed into law on Dec. 4, 2018, as Title IX of the Frank LoBiondo Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2018. VIDA establishes new responsibilities for the Coast Guard to enforce U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) performance standards for marine pollution control devices (both equipment and management practices) that control discharges incidental to the normal operation of a vessel. These discharges were previously regulated by the EPA under the Vessel General Permit (VGP) process. While the full scope of the Coast Guard’s requirements under VIDA are still being evaluated, we are working closely with the EPA to implement the requirements and ensure environmental protection of U.S. waters. While additional information will be provided as the EPA and Coast Guard implement the different elements of VIDA, here are some things you might find helpful.

Vessel General Permit. The VGP will not be reissued, and the existing 2013 VGP remains in full force and effect beyond its expiration date until such time that the EPA and the Coast Guard finalize and implement the new regulations that VIDA requires. Specifically, the provisions of the 2013 VGP, as currently written, apply until EPA publishes the standards of performance for marine pollution control devices and the Coast Guard publishes implementing regulations for those performance standards. New regulations will be at least as stringent as the current VGP in regards to corrective actions, inspections, monitoring, reporting, recordkeeping, and vessel-class specific requirements. New vessels must apply to the EPA for a 2013 VGP until the regulations are finalized. For further information on the EPA’s Vessel General Permit process, please refer to EPA’s website or contact EPA via email at vgp@epa.gov.

Federal Agency Responsibilities. Under VIDA, EPA will establish national standards of performance for marine pollution control devices for discharges incidental to the normal operation of vessels. These discharges are currently permitted under the terms of EPA’s VGP. Under the VGP program, EPA currently permits five types of “general effluents” and 27 “specific discharge categories” for which we expect to see new discharge limit regulations developed.

Under VIDA, the Coast Guard is responsible for promulgating implementation, compliance, and enforcement requirements for standards of performance established by EPA. Coast Guard responsibilities include establishing regulations governing the vessel’s management practices, as well as the design, construction, testing, approval, installation, and use of marine pollution control devices to ensure compliance with performance standards. The Coast Guard will not simply “inherit” the VGP from EPA, rather, the Coast Guard is tasked with creating a program that is no less stringent than the VGP’s framework in ensuring, monitoring, and enforcing compliance with the discharge limits established by EPA.

State and Regional Authorities. VIDA generally preempts states from setting or enforcing state-specific ballast water management regulations different from those established by the EPA and the Coast Guard, while preserving flexibility for states and certain regions to set, administer, and enforce incidental discharges from vessels. For example, VIDA provides a process for Governors of Great Lakes States to develop an enhanced standard of performance for vessels operating in the Great Lakes, and submit it to the EPA and Coast Guard for approval. Also, VIDA provides certain requirements for, and exemptions from ballast water management practices, for vessels operating between ports or destinations along the Pacific Coast seaboard. Finally, VIDA requires the Coast Guard to cooperate with State agencies, and facilitates State enforcement of the Federal standards.

Timeline for Implementation of Regulations. VIDA requires EPA to promulgate Federal standards of performance for marine pollution control devices and best management practices, and to control or abate any discharge incidental to the normal operation of a vessel, no later than two years after enactment. Then, VIDA requires the Coast Guard to publish implementing regulations no later than two years after the EPA publishes new or revised standards of performance.

For further information on VIDA, please contact the Coast Guard Office of Operating and Environmental Standards at environmental_standards@uscg.mil.

This blog is not a replacement or substitute for the formal posting of regulations and updates or existing processes for receiving formal feedback of the same. Links provided on this blog will direct the reader to official source documents, such as the Federal Register, Homeport and the Code of Federal Regulations. These documents remain the official source for regulatory information published by the Coast Guard.

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