Ordinarily — and preferably — it’s the weather and sea conditions that determine whether or not we’ll take a boat ride, but every once in a while it’s the talk in Washington, D.C. that threatens the recreational boater.
On the boating legislative radar these days is a situation that could cramp the style of the boat owners everywhere. It stems from laws passed back in the ’70s that had to do with regulating the commercial marine industry as it pertained to the “invasive species” issue.
Large cruise ships carrying a lake’s worth of water taken on in one part of the world for stability purposes would dump it in other parts of the world, which would create environmental havoc.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) came up with regulation for the industry, but left recreational boating exempt, since there wasn’t much in common between the two entities.
In 2006, it was decided by a U.S. District Court that the exemption be nullified and the EPA was ordered to include recreational boaters in a permit program that would address the proper disposal and management of engine cooling water, bilge water, gray water, and common deck runoff that occur during the normal operation of a boat.
The permit program will require small boat owners to install water treatment systems on exhaust, bilge, sink, shower, outflows, etc.
The structure of the permit is due by September 2008. And it’s quite possible that after that date, documentation and retrofitting for boats across the United States will begin.
As it stands now, a permit will be required for “normal operational discharges” on every recreational boat — even your dinghy — in every state where you boat,” said BoatUS vice president of government affairs Margaret Podlich.
“This is an attempt to apply a complex permitting system designed for industrial dischargers to recreational boats that will not yield significant environmental benefits,” Podlich said.
While Podlich is an advocate of clean waters and environmental conscientiousness, she is miffed by the permit issue. She considers it ill-conceived and unrealistic in what it’s asking.
Podlich explains that the proposed permit doesn’t allow for some inherent factors of what a boat is and does. From cooling systems to cockpit drains, she insists that the regulations aren’t taking into account the basic design and purposes of most recreational boats.
“Take your area for instance,” she said of Marina del Rey specifically. “When jets dump their fuel residue all over your boat and then it rains — where will it go? What did you have to do with that equation besides owning the boat?”
But some people believe that any steps taken towards responsibility and cleaner waters can only be positive. While it may be painful and uncomfortable for boaters now, it will only benefit the greater good in the final analysis.
“Do not support more pollution,” said one boater in favor of the permit. “Eighteen million recreational boats are polluting lakes and oceans one leak at a time. Stop being selfish and look at the big picture. Don’t let this continue.”
BoatUS, along with a growing number of sponsors, is now pushing for passage of House of Representatives Bill (HR) 2550, written by Democratic Congressman Gene Taylor of Mississippi and Republican Congresswoman Candice Miller of Michigan, which calls for the exemption to be reinstated.
The feeling is that the impending law is too sweeping and was written for the commercial market.
“Ninety-nine percent of recreational boats do not have ballast tanks, nor do they cross oceans in any significant numbers” stated a BoatUS press release. “For over three decades the EPA understood that everyday deck runoff, bilge water, engine cooling water, or gray water from sinks or showers, was not the same as commercial vessels discharging millions of gallons of imported ballast tank water. As a result, it exempted these normal operational discharges from the Clean Water Act permit system.”
Podlich added, “It’s important to know that HR 2550 does not weaken any existing environmental regulations for recreational boaters. The main sources of potential pollution from boats — oil, fuel, sewage and trash — are already regulated and will remain so.”
The recreational advocate group is urging all boaters to contact their legislators to co-sponsor HR 2550, which they consider a common-sense solution designed to make the previous exemption for recreational boats permanent.
For more information on this issue, or for help contacting your legislators, go to www.BoatUS .com/gov/.