Choice Ballast Solutions’ senior compliance engineer Debra DiCianna discusses the EPA’s proposed performance standards for vessel incidental discharges
On 26 October 2020, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published proposed performance standards for vessel incidental discharges. The proposed rulemaking was the first step in moving from the Vessel General Permit (VGP) and US Coast Guard (USCG) ballast water management regulations to the requirements of the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act. EPA estimates that approximately 66,000 ships will be impacted.
The proposed regulations include general standards of performance and discharge-specific standards. The proposed rulemaking changes the known structure of the discharge requirements and aligns them with ship systems – not exactly the ship discharges listed in the VGP. For example, ballast water requirements are listed as discharge-specific requirements for ballast tanks.
The general proposed standards that may most impact ships are the proposed requirements for environmentally acceptable lubricants (EALs) under Oil Management. EPA proposes that EALs must be used in any oil-to-sea interface and defines an oil-to-sea interface as “any seal or surface on ship-board equipment where the design is such that oil or oily mixtures can escape directly into surrounding waters. Oil-to-sea interfaces are found on equipment that is subject to submersion as well as equipment that can extend overboard”.
We found this definition difficult to interpret and asked EPA to clarify if the definition includes hydraulic equipment on deck. While EALs have improved dramatically, problems can occur with EALs when used in older equipment where EALs were not designed to be used. We commented that EPA should consider the use of EALs for only new ships and equipment, but not for existing, older equipment because the impacts have not been assessed.
"It is important for ship owners to understand the possible impact of the final EPA regulations"
Based on our review of the proposed discharge-specific standards, five ship areas were most impacted: (1) ballast tanks; (2) exhaust gas emission control systems; (3) gray-water systems; (4) hull and associated niche areas; and (5) seawater piping. We consider the proposed standards for hull and associated niche areas and seawater piping to institute a fouling rating system in which requirements are dependent to possibly have the greatest impact on ships.
EPA based the requirement on an existing fouling rating system developed by the US Navy. Vessels of the US Navy operate with significant differences to commercial vessels and have a large infrastructure developed for implementing and complying with the system. The fouling rating system would most likely have a significant economic impact on ships and the EPA Regulatory Impact Analysis of the EPA Proposed Rulemaking for “Vessel Incidental Discharge National Standards of Performance” did not provide any description or estimated costs for a fouling rating system. We recommended that EPA base requirements on a time-maintenance or vessel operating impact system that aligns with ship survey periods.
One of the most significant changes for ballast tanks is that all vessels that operate solely in the Great Lakes would not be required to achieve the ballast water discharge standards. EPA acknowledged the design and operational issues associated with ‘lakers’ as well as the treatment issues with filter clogging and UV transmittance. EPA did not acknowledge the treatment issues in relation to other vessels operating in water of the US.
The next step is to await EPA publication of the final Vessel Incidental Discharge National Standards of Performance and then assess the impact on ship operations. EPA has not estimated when publication of the final performance standards will occur, due to the change in US administration as well as the requirement to address the comments received. Approximately 179 formal comments were submitted, including those from Choice Ballast Solutions.
It is important for ship owners to understand the possible impact of the final EPA regulations because the USCG will be proposing standards for implementation of the EPA performance standards. Further interaction with the USCG will be required to ensure the implementation is not overly burdensome.
Choice Ballast Solutions helps clients understand the developing regulatory standards and will continue to interact with the EPA and USCG to communicate possible impacts.