Guest Column | April 10, 2012

WWEMA Window: U.S. Coast Guard Issues New Rule Addressing Ballast Water Discharges

By Rudy Matousek, Severn Trent Services

Rudy MatousekThe U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) final rule addressing ballast water discharge standards (BWDS) was published in the Federal Register (77 Fed. Reg. 17254) on March 23, 2012. The final rule will become effective on June 21, 2012. It applies to two groups of vessels discharging ballast water into the waters of the U.S.: 1) Vessels currently equipped with ballast tanks that operate in the waters of the U.S. (required to do ballast water exchange); and 2) Seagoing vessels (greater than 1,600 GRT) that do not operate beyond the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone, taking on and discharging ballast water in more than one Captain of the Port zone.

Vessels subject to the regulations are required to install and operate a Ballast Water Management System (BWMS) satisfying the treatment standard in Regulation D-2 of the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments, 2004 (IMO BWM Convention). Installation is implemented in two categories: 1) Ships built after Dec. 1, 2013 must have a BWMS operational at time of delivery; and 2) Ships built before Dec. 1, 2013 must have a BWMS operational during the first dry docking after Jan. 1, 2016.

The USCG has indicated that it is likely to take three years to implement the entire plan; this would include placement of key USCG review personnel, certification of test facilities, and definition of final test protocols. To bridge this gap, the final rule allows for temporary acceptance of BWMS approved by a foreign Administration in accordance with the standards in the IMO BWM Convention, of which there are 22 foreign Administration Type Approved BWMS today. These systems are referred to in the final rule as Alternate Management Systems (AMS).

To gain AMS status, manufacturers of these systems must provide documentation to the USCG to prove the BWMS meets the National Environment Policy Act (NEPA), other environmental policy, and treated ballast meets the D-2 discharge standard. This will allow vessel owners to install BWMS prior to the implementation schedule. The use of an AMS will be allowed for five years after the vessel is required to comply with the USCG BWDS. The five-year period is to provide the BWMS manufacturer sufficient time to obtain full USCG approval while complying with Environmental Technology Verification Protocols (46 CFR 162.060). Any vessel using an AMS must still comply with the terms and conditions of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Vessel General Permit (VGP) when operating in U.S. waters. The proposed 2013 VGP already contains discharge limits similar to the IMO D-2 standard.

With these regulations the USCG has set the bar for much needed action to protect U.S. coastal areas from non-indigenous marine organisms and bacteria. Although a somewhat extended implementation schedule, there are enough provisions in the final rule to effectively implement the use of BWMS for ship owners, shipyards, manufacturers of BWMS, and port state control. The combined efforts of ship inspections by the USCG and the extended infrastructure of the EPA to police and enforce regulations should become a formidable union to execute U.S. Ballast Water Discharge Policy. Considering the IMO Convention ratification has somewhat stalled, this final rule U.S. regulation, along with the VGP, may become the ballast water template for the rest of the world.

About the Author
Rudy Matousek is Manager of Technology at Severn Trent Water Purification, a Fort Washington, Pennsylvania-based manufacturer of water and wastewater solutions concentrated around disinfection, instrumentation, and filtration technologies.