By September recreational boaters across the United States will be facing an additional permit if Congress doesn't act this summer.
Scheduled for debate in both the U.S. House and Senate is the Clean Boating Act of 2008. The legislation would amend the Clean Water Act so that the Environmental Protection Agency can not require a permit for recreational vessels regulating vessel discharges. No such permits are currently in place. The EPA has drafted two proposed permits in response to a 2006 federal court order.
A federal court ruling in Northwest Environmental Advocates et al. v. EPA, overturned the EPA's regulation excluding discharges incidental to the normal operation of a vessel on the grounds that it exceeded the EPA's authority. The regulatory exclusion is set to be revoked as of Sept. 30, 2008.
Times Observer file photo
Pleasure boats like these tied up at Wolf Run Marina on the Allegheny Reservoir would likely be affected by regulations proposed by the EPA.
The EPA has appealed the Court's decision, but in the mean time has drafted regulations that would create two permits. That action has sparked the proposed Clean Boating Act, which has sparked much controversy in the boating community. Boating associations and recreational boaters are calling legislators to support the Clean Boating Act and oppose the permits.
"I think the permits will hurt tourism, because boating is a big reason why people come here," said Bob Hennessy owner of Kinzau Wolf-Run Marina.
Much of the controversy is over the supposed initial cost and fine attached to the proposed permit. Boat U.S. has been a vocal opponent of the proposed permits, and it claims that violators of the EPA permit may be liable for daily fines up to $32,500.
EPA officials deny that a fine was ever part of the plan.
"Its like an urban legend around here," said John Lishman of the EPA's Oceans and Coastal Protection Division.
According to Scott Croft Assistant Vice President of Public Relations for Boat U.S., the proposed permit will be sent to the state level to be certified as a law.
"The state will have the ability to adjust the permit," said Croft. Boat U.S. claims that each state will be allowed to add its own regulations to the permit, causing difficulty for boat owners who use their boats in more than one state.
Lishman said that while the EPA has no intention of charging a fee for the proposed permits, each state may choose to tack on fees as it deems necessary.
The two proposed permits will be open for public comment for 45 days. The Vessel General Permit will cover all commercial vessels and some recreational vessels over 79 ft., the Recreational General Permit will cover most recreational vessels under 79 ft.
According to the EPA, the original reason for the regulations were to avoid the spreading of an invasive species that can travel in the ballast water of large ships into U.S. waters. Based on the Court decision the EPA will have to develop permits that effect not only foreign ships, but U.S. ships and recreational boats. The EPA estimates that 8,000 foreign vessels, 91,000 domestic vessels and 13 million recreational boats may be affected by the proposed i permits.
The Clean Boating Act, H.R. 5949, was introduced in the House on May 1 by Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-OH) and Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI). A similar bill, S. 2766, was introduced in the Senate on March 13 by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Sen. BIll Nelson (D-FL).