August 13, 2007 – Court decision could be costly

A recent court decision has caught the attention of recreational boat enthusiasts. As most industry experts now agree, the decision requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop a discharge permit system for all boats in the United States, including PWC.
The permits would be required in order to operate any recreational vessel after Sept. 30, 2008.
The permits have come to the recreational boating community in a roundabout way. The issue grew out of a 1999 lawsuit filed against the EPA by several environmental groups and later joined by a number of states, including Illinois, New York, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The lawsuit was designed to target aquatic nuisance species by mandating large commercial ships treat their ballast water.
Until recently, recreational boats have always been exempt from such regulation, most likely in part because roughly 99 percent of recreational boats do not use ballast water. The most recent court ruling has canceled this exemption, however, and now requires the EPA to develop and implement a national permit system for all vessels in the United States, regardless of size.
All discharges from a vessel are being looked at, the most pertinent to PWC owners would include engine cooling water. It’s predicted the permits might substantially add to the cost of vessels by requiring boats to be built differently or equipment added to treat discharge of various kinds. The permits themselves also will be costly, both in terms of money and time. Once an owner starts operating their vessel under a permit, they would be required to submit regular written reports to the government qualifying the discharge.
A permit would be required for each state in which an owner plans to use their vessel, and might cost as much as several hundred dollars for a 1-5 year period of coverage. If the permitting system is not in place by the September ’08 due date, boaters would be operating illegally and could be subject to a citizen lawsuit.
While boating enthusiasts would likely agree that preventing the spread of invasive species is vital to the health of waterways, boating organizations suggest recreational owners can accomplish it in simpler ways, including inspecting the boat upon leaving the launch ramp, draining the bilge, rinsing down the vessel and allowing it to completely dry before introducing the craft into a different waterway.
They also suggest the primary sources of pollution from boats — oil, fuel, sewage and trash — are already being regulated. They argue the permit system would be both costly and cumbersome for boaters, the industry and state and federal governments, without offering any significant benefits.
At the present time, the EPA has appealed the district court decision. An amicus brief also has been filed by the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) on behalf of the boating industry. Both have asked for reconsideration of the sheer breadth of the decision as well as its timetable. The case is being heard this month.
In addition, the EPA also is reportedly researching boat discharges of various kinds, trying to determine which are of concern and how to effectively reduce them.
Various boating organizations also have been working toward having the recreational boat exemption reinstated. Representatives Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) and Candice Miller (R-Mich.) have introduced the Recreational Boating Act of 2007 (H.R. 2550), which would keep recreational boats from getting lumped into what is being called an unnecessary and expensive permitting system. The act also would seek to make the exemption permanent in order to avoid another such situation in the future.
“If the permit system becomes a reality, you will be required to pay for a state permit for each of your boats,” cautions BoatUS, the nation’s leading boat owner membership organization. “EPA will be monitoring your deck runoff, grey water, bilge water, engine cooling water and the use of copper bottom paints.
“The original lawsuit that led to this court decision sought to address ballast water discharges from large ocean-going ships, which can introduce damaging aquatic invasive species into U.S. waters. Keeping our waterways clean and preventing the spread of invasive species is of utmost importance to the future of boating. But taking a complex permitting system designed for industrial dischargers and applying it to recreational boats will not yield significant environmental benefits, and it will come at a very high cost. Requiring recreational boaters to purchase a permit would not prevent the spread of invasive species.”
PWC dealers, owners and manufacturers, as well as any other interested party, are urged to make their opinions known quickly by contacting their Congressmen to urge support of H.R. 2550. BoatU.S. also is requesting parties copy them at GovtAffairs@BoatUS.com. Interested parties also are urged to contact the EPA at ow-docket@epa.gov, using the subject line “Docket ID No. OW-2007-0483, and express how this permit will affect the average recreational boater. (Should you contact the EPA be forewarned your e-mail will become public information and part of the permanent record.)
“The following call to action applies to every recreational boat with an engine, at the very least,” said Freeman McCue’s John Donaldson, a crusader for PWC user’s rights. “It doesn’t matter if it is a 5-hp four-stroke or a 250-hp two-stroke, there potentially will be a mandatory requirement imposed by the feds and administered by the states.” psb

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