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July 2007
Congress Tackles Discharge Permits

Six years ago, a number of environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the federal Environmental Protection Agency in an attempt to control the spread of aquatic nuisance species by mandating the treatment of ballast water in large commercial ships. As reported in March 2007 BoatUS Magazine, a fall 2006 decision by the 9th District Court has now required the EPA to develop an operational discharge permit for all vessels — recreational and commercial — in the United States, by Sept. 30, 2008. In the worst-case scenario, if they don't implement a permit system by then, and nothing is done to change this decision, boaters could face citizen lawsuits as they operate their boats on or after Oct. 1, 2008.

Historically, EPA has developed "point source" discharge permits for industrial plants discharging chemicals into waterways. These permits establish daily limits on the amount of pollutants that can be discharged. The industrial plants are responsible for staying within those limits and for submitting regular written performance reports.

With the court imposed deadline looming, EPA staff is now facing the unenviable job of developing a similar permit system for millions of moving sources — something they have never done before. In order to develop this system, EPA must quickly learn the wide array of boat types, and the absolute necessity of discharges like engine cooling water and bilge water.

Because EPA does not have the authority under the Clean Water Act to issue one national permit for all boats at this time, it appears that the permits would have to be administered state by state. As a result, all boaters would have to apply and pay for an operating permit for their home state, which could take months to acquire. In the case of a cruiser looking forward to a New England summer, it could involve filling out and paying for half a dozen applications months ahead to secure permits for each destination state. Even an angler considering taking a jon boat on top of the car for vacation would need a state permit before splashing the boat.

Fortunately, two members of Congress introduced a bill to exempt recreational boats from the Clean Water Act rules. Representatives Gene Taylor (D-MS) and Candice Miller (R-MI) have introduced the Recreational Boating Act of 2007 (H.R. 2550), which would enshrine the 34 –year-old exemption into law.

A coalition led by the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) and including BoatUS lobbied for the legislative remedy. But if Congress does not pass H.R. 2550 before the Sept. '08 deadline, the permit program will go into effect.

BoatU.S. is concerned that the EPA could begin the public comment period as early as this summer. For updates on this and H.R. 2550, BoatUS members should be sure that their e-mail address is on file with

© BoatUS Magazine July 2007

June 18, 2007 Update:
HR 2550 was introduced by Representatives Gene Taylor (D-MS) and Candice Miller (R-MI) in early June. This bills seeks to make the 34 year old EPA exemption for boats' normal operational discharges into a permanent law. We will be emailing BoatU.S. members this summer with specific actions to take regarding legislative initiatives. Meanwhile, if you know your Congressional representatives, we would appreciate your starting to talk with them about the consequences of this potential permit system on your boating, and encourage them to support this bill. Please let us know if you have personal contacts with the folks representing you in Washington, by emailing

EPA is now formulating plans to host a series of public hearings around the U.S. to discuss more specifics about the potential permitting system and to hear from boaters. At this time, they have not yet finalized dates/times of these hearings, but we will be posting that information as soon as we have it on this web page.