New U.S. Environment Act Impacts Ballast Water and VGP

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The Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA) has been signed into U.S. law and will impact U.S. ballast water regulation and the Vessel General Permit (VGP) system.

Until now, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have regulated ballast water and other vessel discharges. This has caused confusion in the past, in particular their different approaches to regulating ballast water.

VIDA establishes a new framework which should provide welcome clarity on the regulation of ballast water discharges in the U.S. and its waters. 

Ballast Water

Under the Act, EPA will take the lead in establishing standards on ballast water and the USCG will lead on monitoring and enforcement. 

The full impact of these changes is still being assessed by EPA and the USCG. However, an important likely change concerns ballast water discharge standards. Prior to VIDA, USCG regulation stated that organisms must not be “living”. This is in contrast to IMO international ballast water regulations which refer to “viable” organisms (their ability to reproduce).

VIDA officially amends the USCG regulations by accepting that organisms that cannot reproduce (“non-viable”) are not considered “living”, therefore aligning with IMO discharge standards.

It is understood that individual U.S. States will be allowed to establish no-discharge zones for areas that require additional protection.

Vessel General Permit (VGP)

The VGP will not be reissued. The existing 2013 VGP requirements are expected to remain in force until EPA introduces new regulations. VIDA is allowing up to four years for these new regulations to come into force.

For further information on how the VGP will be affected by VIDA, Patriot Maritime Compliance LLV have published a circular which can be read here.