EPA proposing vessel discharge standards under VIDA

Ballast 2

On 4 December 2018, the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA) was enacted into law. VIDA brings the USCG’s type-approval methodology for ballast water treatment systems (BWTS) into line with that of the IMO’s, i.e. the most probable number (MPN) analysis method. This change came about following intensive lobbying by manufacturers of BWTS, particularly of UV based systems where fewer UV lamps are needed to render the microorganisms in the ballast water “non-viable” (inability to reproduce) as opposed to “dead”, making these systems more cost effective to operate.  VIDA also extended the validity of VGP 2013 beyond 18 December 2018 and charged the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with the task of establishing vessel discharge standards no later than two years after enactment, i.e. by 3 December 2020, and the USCG with the task of enforcing the VGP. VGP 2013 remains in effect until EPA and the USCG have created new regulations addressing vessel discharges.

On 6 October 2020, EPA issued a news release stating that it is proposing standards to reduce the environmental impact of discharges, such as ballast water, that are incidental to the normal operation of commercial vessels. When finalised, this new rule will streamline the patchwork of federal, state, and local requirements that currently apply in the US. The proposed rule includes discharge-specific standards for 20 different types of vessel equipment and treatment systems, as well as general performance standards that would apply more broadly to the full range of incidental discharges. States, working through EPA or the USCG, may seek more stringent requirements, request emergency orders, or apply for no-discharge zones for one or more of the incidental discharges in any or all state waters.

Members are also referred to the Club’s Legal Briefing on Ballast Water Management Regulations dated September 2019 here for a discussion on the following questions:

  • Have the IMO and the USCG reconciled their differences in relation to BWP standards?
  • What is VIDA?
  • Will harmonisation lead to all systems receiving IMO and USCG type approvals? 
  • Are alternate management systems and USCG time extensions dead?
  • What about more stringent state requirements?
  • What has been the effect of de-coupling of IOPP renewal surveys?

The Club will continue to monitor and report on EPA’s development of the new discharge standards. In the meantime, if Members have any questions relating to ballast water management regulations, your usual contact at the Club would be pleased to assist you.

Jacqueline Tan

Legal Services Manager