Industry seeks clarity as Coast Guard, EPA differ on ballast treatment

The Canadian Shipowners Association (CSA) is seeking a legal review of new ballast water treatment rules in the United States that went into effect Jan. 1.

The legal review applies to existing vessels that discharge between 1,500 and 3,000 cubic meters of ballast that cannot install treatment systems because no treatment systems have been approved, said Robert Lewis-Manning, president of the CSA. The review asks that implementation dates be stayed.

The ships are required to have ballast water treatment systems installed at the first dry-docking after Jan. 1. The new rules “impose requirements that are currently impossible” to meet, the CSA said in a news release. Ten Canadian vessels will be impacted, according to Lewis-Manning.

The U.S. regulations create standards for living organisms in ballast water and require treatment systems to be installed. However, the U.S. Coast Guard has not approved a ballast water management system for these vessels, and acknowledges this. The Coast Guard has stated it will consider extensions to comply with this rule. As of late January, there were extension requests from 250 vessels, with several already approved, said Lt. Cmdr. Rodney Wert of the Coast Guard’s commercial regulations and standards section.

But the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not responded to requests for extensions, “which has resulted in two different and conflicting federal regulatory regimes” and is harmful to Canadian shipowners and their customers, the CSA said.

A Dec. 27, 2013, memo from EPA Assistant Administrator Cynthia Giles to EPA regional staff states how the agency will handle Coast Guard extensions for vessels that have not complied with the new rules. This guidance is “very open-ended,” Lewis-Manning said. “It is not definitive, it is not black and white.”

The memo outlines the situations in which the EPA’s enforcement policy can apply. “When a vessel has adequately undertaken these measures (as well as any other reasonably available or appropriate measures under the circumstances to minimize the extent or the effects of the VGP ballast water numeric discharge exceedance), EPA will consider such violations of the 2013 VGP ballast water limit a low enforcement priority,” the memo states.

The EPA has said the Clean Water Act does not provide the agency authority to grant extensions. The EPA’s stance places an unfair burden on Canadian shipowners, Lewis-Manning said. “No one is deliberately going to sail in noncompliance,” he said in reference to the EPA’s advice. “Our concern is that this type of approach is passing on the liability to the shipowners.”

Regarding the possible prosecution of Canadian shipowners in noncompliance, Wyn Hornbuckle, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice, said the department could not comment on a pending case.

Vessels that operate only in the Great Lakes will not have to meet the new ballast water management rules, according to the Federal Register. Ships that do not sail east of Anticosti Island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence are considered lakers, according to James H.I. Weakley, president of the Lake Carriers’ Association.

No U.S.-flagged vessels are impacted by the 2014 date, Weakley said. As of Jan. 1, 2016, existing vessels discharging more than 5,000 cubic meters of ballast will have to install treatment systems at the first scheduled dry-docking. At least one U.S.-flagged vessel is impacted by this deadline, Weakley said.

Many Canadian vessels operating on the Great Lakes make one trip yearly east of Anticosti Island to serve ports in the Canadian Maritimes, according to Lewis-Manning.

The number of Canadian vessels affected “will increase dramatically in 2016,” he said. “It is a rolling implantation schedule that will increase in hundreds (of ships) over time.”

By Professional Mariner Staff