Trump signs new law changing ballast and VGP rules

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

06 December 2018

US rules on ballast water systems approval and on the wider issue of the VGP could soon be changing after President Trump added his signature to the 2018 US Coast Guard Authorization Act this week.

As reported by ShipInsight in mid-November, the bill had been approved by the senate and was passing to congress. With acceptance by both house of the US legislature, the act only needed Trump’s signature to take effect.

The new law reauthorises USCG programmes and will almost certainly lead to changes in US ballast water management regulations and the US Vessel General Permit which covers discharges of ballast water as well as other operational discharges from vessels. A new VGP was due to be put into effect this year but has been delayed by EPA and there is a possibility that no new version will ever be released.

The new Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA) which forms part of the new USCG rules gives the EPA responsibility for establishing standards for the discharge of pollutants from vessels and the USCG responsibility for prescribing, administering, and enforcing the standards. EPA has a two-year period to promulgate the new regulations after which the USCG has a 60 day window in which to review and concur with it. The 2013 VGP will remain in force until a decision is made.

The new act does require that new rules cannot be any less stringent than current VGP or US ballast water regulations but prevents individual states from enacting more stringent requirements without approval from EPA.

The act also allows the MPN method of testing for ballast water systems for effectiveness. This method, which has been used by most systems gaining IMO approval, was previously rejected by the USCG which approved only the ‘Vital Stain’ method of testing.

The USCG has 180 days to publish a draft policy letter describing BWMS type approval testing methods and protocols for a public comment period. Within one year, the final USCG policy letter needs be published. Therefore, BWMS undergoing testing according to new protocols cannot begin until approximately late 2019.

The Act authorises $50 million a year for a new programme under the EPA for monitoring and responding to outbreaks of invasive species in the Great Lakes and to help develop ballast-control technologies for vessels in the lakes. An unrelated provision of the act will see the creation of a research centre in the Great Lakes to study the impact of oil spills in fresh water.