Update on National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Regulations

Over the course of the last 9-10 months ECM has been attending on board vessels and hearing back from our client’s vessels concerning the USCG inspection/finding process with respect to the NPDES aspect. Recently, ECM has seen the USCG issue deficiencies to vessels which do not have Vessel General Permit (VGP) instructions on board for their crew. ECM had the opportunity to discuss this very issue with the EPA during a recent public hearing in Washington DC.

In Section 4.2, part 9 of the NPDES regulations it states that vessels are required to keep on board, “All other documentation requirements stated in the Permit (VGP)”. The EPA interprets this to mean that even though the VGPmay not specifically require a certain document to be kept on board, this “catch all” sentence in the regulations requires any documentation related to the VGP to be kept on board. For example, each ship is required to submit a Notice of Intent (NOI) but the VGP does not specifically require the NOI to be kept on board. However, the EPA is citing Section 4.2, part 9 as a requirement to maintain the NOI on board. The EPA has likewise stated that a vessel crew cannot comply with the many requirements of the VGP if they do not have some kind of guidance on board.

This could be a copy of the VGP itself (not recommended, but acceptable), instructions, company circular, NPDES guidance or other written procedures for compliance. For NPDES compliance material prepared by ECM and submitted to our clients, such guidance documentation is included and should be placed on board your vessels.

If you have not provided written guidance to your ships on how to comply with the VGP, we recommend that you do so at this time. The US Coast Guard is reviewing VGP compliance during their routine Port State Control examinations. Any deficiencies in the compliance program on board will be documented and referred to the EPA for action. Failure to comply could result in penalties. However, to date, we have not seen nor heard of the EPA actually issuing any fines or penalties, regardless of what the USCG is finding and/or reporting to the EPA. Nevertheless, the EPA’s NPDES regulations do allow the EPA to issue fines/penalties.

As a reminder, there are several documents required for Vessel General Permit (VGP) compliance:

  • A valid Notice of Intent (NOI).
  • The EPA Confirmation Letter for the NOI
  • Copies of weekly inspections conducted on board while in US waters. If quarterly inspections are required, copies must also be retained on board
  • Copies of Annual Inspections conducted since 2010.
  • A Dry Dock Report prepared in the VGP format if the vessel has drydocked since 6 February 2009.
  • A record of VGP training conduct on board for the crew.
  • A copy of the One Time Report* submitted to the EPA, and a copy of the receipt from the EPA.

ECM would recommend that all of this documentation be kept in some sort of binder i.e “VGP Manual” on board your vessel, readily available to the Master upon a USCG Port State Control (PSC) inspection. Although NPDES regulations do not require a VGP Manual, that seems to be what the USCG are looking for during the PSC exam.

REMINDER: One Time Reports (OTRs) are due 6 February 2012 for ships which submitted their NOI’s between 19 June and 19 September 2009.

ECM offers assistance in submitting NOI’s and One Time Reports. We also prepare ship-specific instructions and checklists for ships. Our experienced surveyors can conduct VGP Annual Inspections here in the US and overseas. For information on any of these programs, please contact us at info@ecmeurope.net


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