Press Releases

Senators Lead Bipartisan Effort to Cut through Red Tape for Saltwater Vessels

Washington, D.C. – As Ranking Member of the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and the Coast Guard, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), along with Subcommittee Chairman Mark Begich (D-AK), today introduced a bipartisan bill to set uniform standards for regulating ballast water and other incidental discharges from vessels, and clarify requirements for fishermen and other small boat users.  

The bill, the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act, has broad bipartisan support with 20 co-sponsors, and is widely supported by the maritime industry.  

Vessel discharge is most often rainwater and other runoff that accumulates on deck. The Coast Guard and Environmental Protection Agency currently regulate ballast water under separate, sometimes inconsistent federal statutes and implementing regulations. EPA regulation under the Clean Water Act also opened the door for the States to establish their own varying standards and requirements for incidental vessel discharges. This complicated, inefficient, and confusing patchwork of federal and state requirements is a burden on shippers and other vessel owners that visit multiple ports. Rubio and Begich introduced this bill so one uniform set of environmentally sound standards is put in place.  

“By creating a national standard for our shipping vessels, we will provide regulatory certainty for American businesses engaged in interstate commerce, with appropriate environmental safeguards,” said Rubio. ”We have also included a provision that will ensure small businesses and individuals are not unduly burdened by a federal regulatory regime. The strong bipartisan support shows how important this issue is for businesses all across the country. I look forward to continuing to work with Chairman Begich to get this legislation across the finish line so the industries and workers impacted by this can move forward with the regulatory certainty they need.”  

“I introduced this legislation with Senator Rubio so shippers and other vessel owners that visit multiple ports don’t have to deal with the unreasonable patchwork of EPA rules telling them how to manage ballast water and other discharges,” said Begich. “It sets a national standard for ballast water and other discharges and significantly tightens these rules over time. It gives a permanent exemption for fishermen and other small boat owners who are not considered part of the problem. This bill has broad bipartisan support and the backing of the maritime industry and Alaska fishermen.”  

Co-sponsors of the bill are Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Roy Blunt (R-MO), John Boozman (R-AR), Bob Casey (D-PA), Thad Cochran (R-MS), Susan Collins (R-ME), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Ed Markey (D-MA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Bill Nelson (D-FL),  Mark Pryor (D-AR), Jay Rockefeller  (D-WV), Brian Schatz (D-HI), John Thune (R-SD), Pat Toomey (R-PA), David Vitter (R-LA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Roger Wicker (R-MI).  

About the bill:  

The Vessel Incidental Discharge Act would establish ballast water treatment requirements set by the Coast Guard in 2012 as the uniform national standard governing ballast water discharges by vessels. By 2022, the Coast Guard and EPA would be required to issue a revised rule that is 100 times more stringent than the initial ballast water treatment standard. And if a more stringent state ballast water treatment standard is determined to be feasibly achievable, detectable, and commercially available the more stringent standard would be adopted as the uniform national standard.  

The legislation would exempt incidental discharges by commercial vessels less than 79 feet, fishing vessels including seafood processors, and recreational vessels, as well as discharges that occur for research, safety, or similar purposes.  Not considered an environmental problem, these vessels have previously been exempted on a year-to-year basis.