July 30, 2008

Are You a Weekend Boater? The President Just Did You a Favor

By Liz Mitchell, The Island Packet, Hilton Head Island, S.C.

Jul. 30--Recreational boaters can breathe a sigh of relief.

Two bills, one of which President Bush already has signed, will exempt them from having to obtain environmental permits usually required for large commercial and ocean-going ships. Congress passed the bills last week.

In 2005, a U.S. District Court ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to create a new permitting system by September 2008 that would regulate pollutant discharges for all vessels.

It would have required all commercial and recreational boaters to obtain permits for deck runoff, uncontaminated bilge water, engine coolant or sink water. None of those discharges had ever been regulated. Boaters could have been fined up to $32,500 a day.

The new permits would have supplemented existing environmental laws that restrict boaters from dumping fuel, oil, trash or sewage.

Recreational boaters -- defined as those with no paying customers -- will not have to abide by those requirements because Bush signed the Clean Boating Act on Tuesday night.

The other bill, which the president is expected to sign, exempts vessels less than 79 feet long and all fishing vessels regardless of length from the new permit requirements for two years.

During that time, the EPA and the U.S. Coast Guard will study whether any new management practices should be required of those boats.

"It could be requiring the use of biodegradable cleaning agents and detergents rather than phosphate-based soaps," said Mat Dunn, spokesman for the National Marine Manufacturers Association, a group that pushed for the recreational boaters' exemption. "Another (requirement could be) to try and minimize the discharge of contaminated bilge water by using a pad (to catch it). A lot of boaters already do things like that."

Local boaters, worried the new permits would be costly and impossible to enforce, are pleased.

"That relieves recreational boaters from a tremendous burden and will cut down bureaucracy in Washington," said Art Brown of the Hilton Head Island Sportfishing Club. "I'm delighted."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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Copyright (c) 2008, The Island Packet, Hilton Head Island, S.C.

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