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Update on the US Vessel General Permit programme –
It’s all in the details

Next edition of VGP announced by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

In 2008, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched its first foray into the area of ship environmental regulations, when it implemented its Vessel General Permit programme (VGP).  This programme is a wide-ranging set of rules, procedures, and standards regarding a whole array of vessel effluents, not just ballast water, but also 26 other categories of substances regarding discharge, including leaching from anti-fouling paint, deck washdown and run-off, “graywater” and sewage discharge, boiler blow-down, fire-main systems, chain locker effluent, gas turbine water wash, sonar dome discharge, and non-oily machinery waste water (virtually all categories of potential pollution from a ship, excepting oil  and hazardous materials spills).1

The 2008 permit expires on 19th December 2013.  Recently, the US EPA has announced the next edition of the VGP, to take immediate effect on the expiration of the 2008 permit and to be valid until 19th December 2018.   By travelling in US waters, vessels become automatically eligible to come within compliance with the VGP by simply meeting the standards set forth and maintaining the records required.

As under the 2008 permit, vessels used as energy, mining, storage or seafood processing facilities, or secured to the bed of waters subject to the permit or to a buoy for the purpose of mineral or oil exploration or development, are not eligible for coverage under the 2013 permit.

Vessels less than 79 feet in length may be eligible for a special small vessel protocol (Small Vessel General Permit, or sVGP), to be issued by the EPA later in 2013.

Summary of changes
The changes that come with this new iteration of the VGP can be summarised as follows:

– Numeric ballast water discharge limit standards are set forth, but can be said to be in basic accord with US Coast Guard standards as promulgated in 2012.

– Requirement to ensure proper function of the ballast water treatment systems aboard ships.

– Additional management procedures for vessels in the Great Lakes trade, regarding prevention of the introduction of invasive species.

– More stringent effluent limits for oil to sea interfaces and exhaust gas scrubber washwater.

– New reporting requirements and allowance of electronic record-keeping.

Since it may take several months to modify practices and procedures to ensure compliance with the VGP, and to maintain records in accordance with the VGP’s requirements, a vessel operator subject to the US VGP should look at the current materials available on the new VGP, to ensure compliance with it.  It should be noted that the US EPA has an agreement with the US Coast Guard to the effect that the latter, when conducting other shipboard inspections, will also look for compliance with the VGP.

EPA guidance materials for the VGP programme can be found at the following link: http://cfpub.epa.gov/npdes/vessels/vgpermit.cfm.

The 2013 VGP will offer challenges for compliance, and the EPA mentions on its website that it will in the near future issue additional guidance documents, to assist in compliance and to provide key details on the permit, including a permit overview, how to obtain authorisation under the permit, monitoring and reporting requirements and additional resources.

On the other hand, the 2013 VGP is based upon, and is a logical extension of, the original 2008 VGP, and, therefore, for vessel operators this should facilitate updating compliance procedures based on what is in place already.2

1 For a review of the 2008 permit programme, see the article “US Vessel General Permit – The case of the reluctant regulator” in Gard News Issue No. 194.
2 For more information about the 2008 VGP, readers may refer to the following: Gard News Issue No. 194,  May/July 2009, “US Vessel General Permit – The case of the reluctant regulator”, Gard News Issue No. 199, August/October 2010, “‘The Enforcers’ – US Coast Guard to prepare to monitor the Vessel General Permit Program”; P&I Member Circulars No. 9/2008, “US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Vessel General Permit (VGP) requirements”,  No. 10/2008, “US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Vessel General Permit (VGP) requirements”; Loss Prevention Circular No. 04-11, “USCG Enforcement of US EPA’s Vessel General Permit Program on Ships in US Waters”; Gard Alert, October 2011, “US EPA – Vessel General Permit (VGP) one time report electronic system now available”.


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