Government Standards

EPA, Coast Guard Work to Deliver New Ballast Water Standards Under VIDA

Last December, President Donald Trump signed the Frank LoBiondo Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2018. An important component of this legislation is Title IX, the “Vessel Incidental Discharge Act”, or VIDA, aimed at simplifying the jumble of federal, state, and local requirements for the commercial vessel community. VIDA requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) to develop the necessary measures to implement VIDA’s requirements.

Under VIDA, a vessel’s “incidental discharges” include a broad range of discharges such as ballast water, bilgewater, graywater (e.g., water from sinks, showers), and deck washdown and runoff. VIDA applies to commercial vessels greater than 79 feet in length; other non-recreational, non-Armed Forces vessels, such as research and emergency rescue vessels; and ballast water only from small vessels (vessels less than 79 feet in length) as well as fishing vessels of all sizes.

By December 2020, the EPA is required to develop national standards of performance for approximately 30 discharges (similar to the discharges in the EPA 2013 Vessel General Permit or VGP). In most cases, the EPA expects future standards to be no less stringent than the existing 2013 VGP requirements and will be technology-based.

Corresponding implementation, compliance, and enforcement regulations must be readied by the USCG in the two years following the EPA’s development of the new standards of performance (~2022). These may include requirements governing the design, construction, testing, approval, installation, and use of devices to achieve the EPA national standards of performance.

Shippers and industry groups, including the American Waterways Operators, the U.S. Shipping Industry Coalition and the Lake Carriers Association, welcomed the passage of VIDA, looking for it to resolve the difficulties in a regulatory system in which commercial vessels have been subject to inconsistent and duplicative vessel discharge requirements from 25 states and two federal agencies. While the EPA and the USCG must work in tandem on this important regulatory revision implementation, VIDA allows state and regional interests to participate in the standards development. However, VIDA does keep the final decisions in the hands of the EPA and USCG.

The EPA and the USCG have made stakeholder outreach and engagement their focus over the last six months since the passage of VIDA. As part of this stakeholder engagement effort, they hosted interactive webinars and a 2-day Listening Session in May. These events provided a general overview of VIDA, a summary of the regulatory considerations, and opportunities for public input.

A provision of VIDA that has peaked the attention of shippers and equipment manufacturers is that it has paved the way for approval of ballast water treatment systems in line with the International Maritime Organization (IM0). Vessels calling in U.S. waters have not been able to utilize the Most Probable Number (MPN) testing method that is accepted internationally. The MPN method evaluates organisms for their ability to reproduce after treatment. Those unable to reproduce are considered non-viable. At present, USCG requirements mandate that ballast water treatment systems render marine organisms visibly “dead” under a microscope.

VIDA amends the USCG regulations to permit the use of type-approval testing standards that are in harmony with IMO rules. VIDA includes non-viable organisms in its definition of “dead” and calls for the drafting of new rules for reproductive-based testing. This offers opportunity for manufacturers, particularly for UV-based treatment systems, as UV has been shown to work well for rendering marine organisms non-viable.

“VIDA essentially levels the playing field for UV systems, particularly in their target market – the smaller vessels, anywhere from mid-sized container ships down to tugs and OSVs,” Mark Riggio, President of the Ballast Water Equipment Manufacturers’ Association (BEMA) told the Maritime Executive publication earlier this year. BEMA is an organization just over a year old that seeks to give a voice to the manufacturing sector of the ballast water treatment industry. Such implementation would be a boon to shippers that have already installed the IMO-approved, UV-based systems.

It is still early days, however, and industry stakeholders are anticipating the release of a policy letter draft by the USCG that will offer a description of the type-approval testing methods and protocols for ballast water management systems. The release of the policy letter draft will initiate a 60-day public comment period. It is expected to serve as the basis for a final policy for the type-approval treatment systems as VIDA calls for this to be in place by December 2019. Publication of the draft policy letter is pending.

VIDA promises to bring consistency and predictability to ballast water treatment in the U.S. for shipowners. A federally approved ballast water treatment system should be able to uniformly meet requirements throughout the country’s waterways. Access to the slides and the EPA/USCG webinar presentation on You Tube may be accessed at

  • Date July 25, 2019
  • Tags 2019 July