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
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
"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
"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
"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.
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