June 25, 2008

EPA Softens Proposed Rule

By Kevin Wadlow, Florida Keys Keynoter, Marathon

Jun. 25--Even kayakers could find themselves needing a proposed federal permit regulating boating discharges, the Environmental Protection Agency says.

On the positive side, a vessel discharge permit for a kayak or other motorless vessel might cost only 29 cents to $2.29, according to an EPA fact sheet released this week.

Owners of commercial fishing boats, however, could be charged up to $1,598 - the estimated top annual fee for a non-recreational boat permit.

"That's bad but not the worst of it," said Bob Jones, executive director of the Southeastern Fisheries Association, a commercial-fishing organization.

"Any kind of violation could lead to fines up to $32,500," Jones said. "Once you put this kind of thing in government hands, the bureaucracy takes over and who knows what they're going to do."

At noon July 2, the EPA will conduct a webcast to outline its vessel discharge proposals.

A bill in Congress, the Clean Boating Act, would extend a 35-year exemption that relieves recreational and commercial boaters of concerns they could be fined for discharging routine deck runoff, bilge water or graywater.

That exemption ends Sept. 30 unless the Clean Boating Act passes. Summer and holiday breaks in the congressional calendar don't allow much time for that to occur.

"We hope we have done our work well enough that Congress will see fit to make sure this passes," Jones said.

A 2006 lawsuit prompted by concerns over exotic species being carried in the bilge water of ocean-going freighters resulted in a federal court ruling that routine discharges should be regulated.

"Because of ballast tanks emptying in San Franciso Bay, they're going after lobster boats in Key West," Jones said. "It's crazy."

The EPA this week said the agency proposes to allow all recreational boats under 79 feet long to be covered by a recreational general permit.

Recreational vessels often are stored out of the water, may be gassed up away from the water and "generate smaller volumes of effluent," according to the EPA.

Requirements of the recreational permit, as outlined in the draft plan, would have the boat owner agree to follow "the best management practices" to limit sources of pollution.

That would include not using boat wash-down soap with toxins or phosphates, being careful not to spill fuel at gas docks, and responding quickly to any spill.

"One quart of oil can cause an oil slick two acres in size," agency documents note.

Permit costs for recreational motorboats could run from $8.79 to $26.99 annually, depending on how much the permitting system costs to operate. Costs to run it have been estimated at $88 million annually.

Information released this week indicates most charter boats and sailboats for hire would be classified as recreational boats for permitting purposes.

Commercial fishing boats would be considered under commercial rules, which have more stringent and costly proposed rules. About 44,000 boats would be affected, the EPA estimates.

The National Marine Manufacturers Association says the EPA plan "unnecessarily creates a cumbersome, complex and confusing permitting scheme for recreational boaters."

For more information on the proposals or the webcast, go to www.epa.gov/npdes.


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Copyright (c) 2008, Florida Keys Keynoter, Marathon

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