US Environment rules could be Trumped

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

29 September 2016


This year is turning out to be one of the most interesting and perhaps troubling that shipping has faced for some time. Poor trade prospects, collapsing container lines, falling freights, Brexit, the ratification of the ballast water convention and perhaps an early introduction of the 0.5% sulphur cap are some of the developments and there is at least one more to play out with a US Presidential election in November. The result of that is too close to call according to latest polls but the country’s choice could have big impacts on shipping. Trump has promised to repatriate jobs arguably lost to Asia but it seems that he also may impact shipping in other ways. The making and policing of US environmental regulations are a somewhat confusing affair with responsibility often shared between the Environmental Protection Agency and the US Coast Guard. For most shipowners, the USCG is seen as more sympathetic and pragmatic when it comes to enforcing ballast and VGP rules. On other matters the Trump team are most definitely not enthusiastic supporters of the EPA and its climate policies and so the news reported in Scientific American that the Republican candidate has selected the well-known climate sceptic Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute to lead his EPA transition team. The report also said that Trump has also lined up leaders for its Energy Department and Interior Department teams. Republican energy lobbyist Mike McKenna is heading the DOE team; former Interior Department solicitor David Bernhardt is leading the effort for that agency, according to sources close to the campaign. It would seem that the Trump team is looking to drastically reshape the climate policies the agency has pursued under the Obama administration and Ebell’s role is likely to infuriate environmentalists and Democrats alike. Even if Trump is unsuccessful in his bid for the presidency, there is a strong possibility that the US ballast water regulatory regime could change in the near future. A new bill the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act now under discussion between the senate and congress which have both introduced similar but not identical versions is expected to be included in the judicial programme for 2017. If passed it would transfer the authority to regulate on ballast to the USCG and away from EPA and individual states.