September 2007

U.S. District Court Ruling Threatens Recreational Boating

Legislative Solution, H.R. 2550, Gains Steam In Congress With 27 Co-Sponsors

Without Congressional approval of corrective legislation or a successful legal appeal, a September 2006 court decision by the U.S. District Court for Northern California designed to hold the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) accountable for the regulation of the discharge of ballast water from ocean-going commercial ships will have unintended and serious consequences for recreational boating, according to Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatU.S.).

“As it stands now, a permit will be required for ‘normal operational discharges’ on every recreational boat — even your dinghy — in every state where you boat,” said BoatU.S. Vice President of Government Affairs Margaret Podlich.

“This is an attempt to apply a complex permitting system designed for industrial dischargers to recreational boats that will not yield significant environmental benefits.”

Instead, BoatU.S. is pushing for passage of H.R. 2550 “The Recreational Boating Act of 2007.” It would continue a 34-year-old exemption applied to recreational boats and release the EPA from having to implement an expensive and bureaucratic national permit system for all recreational boats by Sept. 30, 2008.

The original lawsuit was brought against EPA in an effort to control the spread of invasive species contained in commercial ships’ ballast water tanks. The tanks, which add stability, are filled overseas and then discharged in U.S. waters when cargo is uploaded. Ballast water is a primary pathway for non-native species, such as the zebra mussel, to invade U.S. waters.

However, 99 percent of recreational boats do not have ballast tanks, nor do they cross oceans in any significant numbers. For over three decades, the EPA understood that everyday deck runoff, bilge water, engine-cooling water, or grey water from sinks or showers was not the same as commercial vessels discharging millions of gallons of imported ballast tank water.

As a result, it exempted these normal operational discharges from the Clean Water Act permit system. But, in 2006, the District Court ruled that EPA overstepped its authority and started the clock on the Sept. 30, 2008 permit-implementation deadline.

BoatU.S. is urging all boaters to contact their legislators to co-sponsor H.R. 2550, which is a common sense solution designed to make the previous exemption for recreational boats permanent.

“It’s important to know that H.R. 2550 does not weaken any existing environmental regulations for recreational boaters. The main sources of potential pollution from boats — oil, fuel, sewage, and trash — are already regulated and will remain so,” added Podlich.
For more information on this issue, or for help contacting your legislators, go to  BoatU.S. is the nation’s leading advocate for recreational boaters with over 650,000 members.