July 23, 2008

Recreational Boaters Get a Reprieve

By Kevin Wadlow, Florida Keys Keynoter, Marathon

Jul. 23--Recreational boaters can continue to wash down their decks without violating federal law: Pending rules on water discharges will not affect recreational boats, says U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.).

Both houses of Congress on Tuesday unanimously passed a bill sponsored by Nelson to exempt recreational boaters from new EPA policies on water discharges from vessels.

If left unchanged, all 25,370 registered vessels in Monroe County would have been required to obtain a federal permit and been subject to potentially large fines if found to be violating the law.

Under some scenarios, a boater washing down his or her boat after a fishing trip might have been ticketed for unlawful release of gray water -- resulting in fines of up to $32,500 per incident.

"This was a matter of common sense," Nelson said. "Imagine the federal government applying measures that cover big tankers to millions of little boats."

In separate action, Congress also approved a separate measure establishing a two-year moratorium on incidental discharge permits for commercial fishing vessels and for all other commercial boats under 79 feet.

In 1973, the Environmental Protection Agency issued an exemption from clean-water regulations for incidental discharges such as like ballast and runoff waters from vessels.

Concerned that ballast water from large ocean-going ships contributed to the release of invasive species in U.S. waters, environmental groups sued the government.

In 2006, courts agreed the exemption was not legally authorized. The ruling meant that without additional federal action, all vessels -- commercial and some 13 million recreational vessels -- must seek a federal permit for any discharged water.

Rules requiring permits, which initially were slated to be issued at little or no cost to recreational boaters, were to take effect in September if Congress did nothing to change the law. Boaters worried that they remained liable for fines, and the cost of the permits could increase.

Even unpowered boats like kayaks would have been required to hold the recreational permit.

Tuesday, the Senate passed the Clean Boating Act of 2008, submitted by Nelson and Sen. Barbara Boxer, to "exclude recreational boaters and anglers from the federal and state permitting requirements under the Clean Water Act designed for land-based industrial facilities and ocean-going commercial ships." The House passed its version of the bill Tuesday afternoon.


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