Short of a successful appeal in a federal courtroom or action by Congress by September 30th, there could well be one more requirement on the books for all recreational boaters in the United States to adhere to.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, there may soon be a required permit for boaters that mandates a certain compliance with the Clean Water Act.

The EPA estimates that 91,000 domestically flagged commercial vessels and approximately 13 million recreational boats that operate in U.S. waters could be affected by these permits. Additionally, this permit may affect approximately 8,000 foreign flag vessels.

Soon, in all likelihood, every boat in the U.S. will be required to operate under an EPA discharge permit that previously existed only for the commercial sector.

While the EPA is the drafting entity for this permit that lumps recreational boaters in with large-scale commercial enterprises and might seem to be its proponent, actually the EPA is not in favor of it and is also hoping that the status remains unchanged.

“We are doing this because we had a regulation that was on the books for 35 years, excluding this kind of permitting, that was overturned by a court ruling in the northern district of California,” said John Lishman of the EPA’s Oceans and Coastal Protection Division. “Since that exemption is going away, discharges without a permit would be the result, and that’s prohibited by the Clean Water Act.”

It would seem that recreational boating is being caught in the bureaucratic netting that is aimed at larger issues, such as invasive species being transported in cruise ship ballast tanks. But due to conflicts and complications involving the federal government’s handling of pollutants and discharges versus the EPA’s management of them, the court decided to reinstate the exclusion. Many recreational boating advocacy groups are less then pleased.

“Boaters want clean waters and want to do their fair share, but the draft EPA permit unfairly burdens them with needless regulation,” said BoatUS vice president for government affairs Margaret Podlich. “The federal courts required EPA to draft a permitting regime that puts individual boaters under the same penalty system as corporate industries, even though discharges from a rowing dinghy or motorboat are quite different than those from a large commercial ship with ballast water.”

According to Lishman, this and other accusations that are circulating are off base. He asserts that the EPA is mindful of the differences between large commercial companies and a fisherman who inadvertently spills a few cups of gas while refueling his outboard.

“We put together as simplified a permit as we could to address their discharges,” said Lishman. “We basically tried to incorporate what we thought was already or should be common-sense good-boating practices. That’s what’s reflected in that permit. It’s a very simple permit.”

The boating community and its various groups are also concerned with what fines and punishments there would be for violations of the permit code and whether boaters would need to buy any particular equipment to comply with what’s required.

“What may appear quite simple on the surface will be anything but, in reality,” said Podlich. “What happens if a neighbor — who perhaps may not appreciate boats — decides that you use too much biodegradable soap to wash your boat, witnesses an accidentally spilled orange juice draining out of the scuppers, or sees you wipe algae off the scum line?

“Under the present draft permit guidelines, all of these instances may be deemed a violation of the Clean Water Act.”

“Even topping off a fuel tank, which is recommended for winter storage of today’s ethanol-laden gasoline, could be considered a violation,” she added.

While Podlich’s concerns are seeded in truth and reflect that of many who are not in favor of the permit, the EPA indicates that there are still marked differences between how recreational boaters will be managed in relation to the Clean Water Act’s literal wording and that the permit is a specially written document for smaller vessels with a recreational application.

“Recognizing that the smaller recreational vessels (less than 79 feet in length) are substantially different both in size and operation than larger commercial vessels, the RGP [Recreational General Permit] is more abbreviated and contains simpler provisions than the VGP [Vessel General Permit],” she said. “Primarily, the RGP would require effluent limits comprised of simple Best Management Practices.”

Lishman is quick to remind that the EPA is not in favor of the idea, either, and he also admits that punishments and enforcement issues are still not completely in focus. Since the EPA doesn’t seem to be necessarily morally married to the matter and is essentially being pushed in this direction, it is not prioritizing discipline at this point.

The permit is open for public comments until August 1st and the Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatUS) is urging all boaters and anglers to contact their federal lawmakers to bring corrective legislation to the Senate and House of Representatives floor for a full vote as soon as possible. The bill is The Clean Boating Act of 2008 — S. 2766 in the Senate and H.R. 5949 in the House of Representatives.

To contact your federal legislators, learn more about the Clean Boating Act of 2008, or to make comments on the draft EPA permit by August 1st, go to www.Boat Blue.org/ or www.BoatUS.com /gov/.

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