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Boaters Urged To Help Stop EPA Boat Discharge System

After 34 years of exemptions to the Clean Water Act, recreational boaters face the threat of needing permits for discharges from their vessels unless Congress acts to keep the current regulations in place.

A court decision in September 2006 required the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop a discharge permit system for all vessels in the United States. Heretofore, it has been only for commercial shipping.

Environmental groups filed a lawsuit in 1999 against the EPA, seeking to control the spread of aquatic species. The intent was to mandate treatment of ballast water in large commercial ships. Numerous organizations and groups participated in that suit and in 2005 the states of New York, Michigan, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Minnesota joined in because of their concern for the Great Lakes. This original lawsuit was aimed at large commercial ships that must take of ballast water for balance stability but then discharge it before taking on cargo.

But pleasure boaters don’t need ballast water; at least more than 99 percent do not.

Still, the EPA system would touch every boater. The EPA is reportedly considering all discharges that are normal: deck runoff, engine cooling water, grey water from sinks and showers as well as all the discharges now controlled, such as garbage, sewage, oil and fuel.

EPA is currently developing the system so not much is definite at this time but there are indications that vessel owners would have to get a permit from the state for each vessel. This would be necessary for each state in which the boat operates. As an example, a boat being operated on a river that divides two states might be required to have a permit for each state at which it operates.

Fees have not been established. The EPA has said permits could cost as much as a few hundred dollars and be valid for from one to five years. Possibly, written reports quantifying a boat’s discharge would be required to be submitted on a regular basis.

The court decision requires the EPA to have a system in place by September 30, 2008. Unless Congressional action is taken to stop it, after that date anyone operating a boat without a valid permit would be in violation of the law and subject to a citizen lawsuit.

The EPA has appealed the court’s decision and the National Marine Manufacturers Association has filed an amicus brief. The appeal will be heard in August by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit but there is no deadline for rendering a decision.

A bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives to protect recreational boaters from this expensive permit system. It is H.R. 2550, sponsored by Reps. Gene Taylor (D-Miss) and Candice Miller (R-Mich), with 16 others Representatives signed on as of late July. The bill—the Recreational Boating Act of 2007—has been referred to the House Committee on Water Resources and the Environment. No hearing dates were set prior to the Congressional summer recess. The legislation would give recreational boaters permanent exemption from the permit requirement. The Senate has not taken action.

All boaters are urged to contact their elected officials and urge support for H.R. 2550.

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