Congress drops the ball on vessel discharge
December 20, 2012
You win some, and you lose some.
While the barge industry was high-fiving it over winning a
victory in Congress to eliminate the dreaded second trip to the TWIC enrollment
center, the industry also lost a battle, too.
In the crunch to complete business on the Coast Guard
Authorization Bill, which had been hanging fire for more than a year in
Congress, lawmakers dropped what became a controversial provision regarding the
discharge of ballast water.
As sought by the U.S. barge industry, the provision would
have set a nationwide standard for vessel discharges. It would have aligned U.S.
law with the guidelines of the International Maritime Organization and have
prohibited states from implementing stricter standards than those set by the
federal government. Vessel owners currently must deal with a patchwork of
overlapping and contradictory ballast water regulations that they say drive up
costs and threaten jobs.
The provision fell under the weight of opposition from
environmentalists and Great Lakes lawmakers. They argued that states should
have the right to set tougher standards to protect their waterways from
pollution and menacing aquatic invasive species. Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y.,
who represents the Great Lakes shoreline in New York state, called the
provision “flawed legislation that endangered the environmental and economic
health of the Great Lakes.”
Supporters say they will try again when the new Congress
convenes in January. “We came very close and made significance progress in 2012
and we’ll build on this in 2013,” Craig Montesano of American Waterways
Operators told me this week.
The Coast Guard bill contains a few other important items
for the maritime industry:
Coast Guard’s two polar icebreakers would stay in operation until studies can
be done on the costs and merits of extending the lives of these aging, obsolete
vessels. The final version of the Coast Guard bill dropped a provision that
would have decommissioned the Polar Star and the Polar
agencies must either provide armed security for U.S.-flag vessels carrying U.S.
government cargoes in high risk waters or reimburse vessel owners for this
The legislation is now awaiting the president’s signature at
the White House.
Update: President Obama signed the bill into law on Dec. 21.