EPA Finalizes New Vessel General Permit to Protect U.S. Waters from Invasive Species

File photo. Ballast water discharge
File photo. Ballast water discharge.

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued a final vessel general permit regulating discharges from commercial vessels, including ballast water, to protect the nation’s waters from ship-borne pollutants and reduce invasive species in U.S. waters.

The final vessel general permit, more formally known as the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System’s (NPDES) 2013 Vessel General Permit (VGP), covers commercial vessels greater than 79 feet in length, excluding military and recreational vessels, and will replace the 2008 vessel general permit due to expire on Dec. 19, 2013.

The new permit regulates 27 specific discharge categories, and will also provide improvements to the efficiency of the permit process, as well as clarifies discharge requirements.

To reduce the risks of the introduction of invasive species, the new permit includes a more stringent numeric discharge standard limiting the release of non-indigenous invasive species in ballast water. The permit also contains additional environmental protection for the Great Lakes, which have suffered disproportionate impacts from invasive species, aligning federal standards with many Great Lakes states by requiring certain vessels to take additional precautions to reduce the risk of introducing new invasive species to U.S. waters.

The 2013 final VGP also seeks to reduce the administrative burden for vessel owners and operators. The permit will eliminate duplicative reporting requirements, expand electronic record-keeping opportunities, and reduce self-inspection frequency for vessels that are out of service for extended periods.

The new discharge standards are supported by independent studies by EPA’s science advisory board and the National Research Council, and are consistent with those contained in the International Maritime Organization’s 2004 Ballast Water Convention.

EPA also adds that it is issuing the permit in advance of the current permit’s expiration to provide the regulated community time and flexibility to come into compliance with the new requirements.

More information can be found at http://www.epa.gov/npdes/vessels. Also an overview of the Final 2013 VGP can also be downloaded at http://www.epa.gov/npdes/pubs/vgp_overview2013.pdf.