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House Approves Pair of Bills to Prevent Excessive Regulation of Fishing Vessels, Commercial Vessels & Recreational Boats


July 22, 2008

Washington, DC ­ The U.S. House of Representatives today approved bills to ensure that millions of recreational boaters, fishermen and small commercial vessel operators will not be newly subjected to massive fines for the normal operation of their vessels.
The House passed the Clean Boating Act of 2008 (S. 2766) and another bill (S. 3298), under suspension of the rules.  The Clean Boating Act provides a narrow Clean Water Act exemption for incidental discharges during the normal operation of recreational vessels.  S.3298 establishes a two-year moratorium on the pending requirement for all fishing vessels and small commercial vessels to obtain permits for similar incidental discharges.  Both bills, which had identical companion bills in the House, are now cleared for the President's signature.
"The Clean Boating Act will prevent America's 16 million recreational boaters from being subject to federal fines of up to $32,500 per day for discharges, including rain that falls on the decks of their boats, and release of water from a marine sink or shower," said Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee Ranking Member Steve LaTourette (R-OH), who introduced the House version of the legislation, H.R. 5949, also called the Clean Boating Act of 2008.  "This is a commonsense solution to the present situation which has been forced upon us by a single federal judge from Northern California.  For more than 30 years, these discharges have not been classified as pollutants, and this bill will protect the original intent of the law."
The Clean Water Act requires a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit for the discharge of any pollutant into navigable waters.  However, in 1977 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) exempted 'discharges incidental to the normal operation of a vessel' from that permit requirement.  Court rulings in 2005 and 2006 determined that EPA had exceeded its authority when it granted this exemption and ordered that the regulatory exclusion for discharges incidental to the normal operation of vessel be revoked as of September 30, 2008.  Without today's Congressional action, recreational boaters, fishermen and small commercial operators would be unnecessarily subjected to penalties under the Clean Water Act. 
"The court ruling that would require EPA permits for the incidental discharge of even rain water from recreational and commercial fishing vessels was silly and I am pleased that we are able to fix this problem," said U.S. Rep. Don Young (R-AK).  "In a state like Alaska, where fishing is one of our biggest industries, such a ruling could be detrimental to our entire economy.  While I would have preferred legislation that treats recreational and commercial fishing vessels in the same manner, this package of bills will ensure, at least for the next two years, that commercial fishing vessels are not required to obtain EPA discharge permits for incidental discharges which have never been shown to cause significant harm to the marine environment.  When the EPA shows that there is no harm, I expect Congress to act swiftly to clarify that no EPA permits are necessary for incidental discharges from commercial fishing vessels."
"The Clean Water Act never intended for recreational boats to be forced to comply with an extensive federal permitting process," said U.S. Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI).  "The Clean Boating Act represents a compromise with Senate leaders which will ensure that millions of recreational boat owners do not need to acquire an EPA permit before heading out on the water."
"Like many, the decision by a federal court in 2006 to require all 16 million vessels in the United States to obtain permission from the EPA to operate their boat came as an unpleasant surprise to me," said U.S. Rep. Henry Brown (R-SC).  "Today, however, both the House and Senate did the right thing and set up environmentally responsible exemptions and standards for incidental discharges from recreational boats.  This measure will prevent the thousands of recreational boaters who enjoy the waters of my district, as well as millions of others, from obtaining a permit or being subject to costly fines.  Additionally, it sets up standards that ensure the protection of our environment."
While the Clean Boating Act provides an exemption for recreational boaters, S. 3298  provides a two-year moratorium for requiring discharge permits for all fishing vessels and other commercial vessels under 79 feet.
"S. 3298 will exempt small commercial vessels and all fishing vessels from obtaining EPA permits for two years while the agency studies the nature and impacts of discharges that are normal to the operation of these vessels," LaTourette said.  "Following the submission of the required report, Congress will have better tools to determine if these discharges should be regulated or exempted, as will be the case for recreational vessels."
"These bills are an important and significant first step.  Our commercial fishing industry is suffering from increased fuel costs, catch limitations and the economic slump," said U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ).  "At a time when our economy is experiencing a downturn, it is critically important Congress approve legislation that will protect both the recreational and commercial boating industries, and the millions of jobs they support."
"Enactment of these bills will carry out an agreement made with Transportation Committee Chairman Oberstar to address the entire scope of vessels that will be impacted by the pending EPA permit program," LaTourette added.
The Clean Boating Act also requires EPA to develop reasonable and practicable management practices to mitigate the adverse impacts that may result from discharges from recreational vessels.  In addition, the legislation requires EPA to develop performance standards for management practices based on the class, type, and size of vessel.


Source of News:

Office of Rep. Don Young


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Ketchikan, Alaska