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EPA Finalizes Vessel General Permit

EPA Finalizes Vessel General Permit

                The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently finalized its National Pollutant General Discharge Elimination System general permit¹ regulating discharges and ballast water on commercial vessels that are at least 79 feet long. The 2013 Vessel General Permit will replace the 2008 Vessel General Permit on December 19, 2013, when the 2008 VGP expires. 




          This action is the reissuance of EPA’s Vessel General Permit (VGP).The first iteration of the VGP expires on December 19, 2013. This second issuance of the VGP will replace that permit. This action applies to vessels operating in a capacity as a means of transportation, that have discharges incidental to their normal operations into waters subject to this permit, except recreational vessels as defined in Clean Water Act §502(25), P.L. 110-288. Unless otherwise excluded from coverage by Part 6 of the permit, waters subject to this permit means waters of the U.S. as defined in 40 CFR§122.2. That provision defines “waters of the U.S.” as certain inland waters and the territorial sea, which extends three miles from the baseline (as used in this document, mile means nautical mile, i.e., 6076 feet). 1 Note that the Clean Water Act (CWA) does not require NPDES permits for vessels or other floating craft operating as a means of transportation beyond the territorial seas, i.e., in the contiguous zone or ocean as defined by the CWA §§ 502(9), (10). See CWA §502(12) and 40 CFR §122.2 (definition of “discharge of a pollutant”). This permit, therefore, does not apply to discharges in such waters. Non-recreational vessels greater than 79 feet, which are not vessels of the armed forces, operating in a capacity as a means of transportation needing NPDES coverage for their incidental discharges will generally be subject to the VGP. Similarly situated vessels less than 79 feet maybe covered under the VGP, or may instead opt for coverage under the Small Vessel General Permit (sVGP).



          Supporting information and materials for this permit are included in Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2011-0141-available at: For further information on the VGP, please send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or contact Ryan Albert at (202) 564-0763 or Juhi Saxena at (202) 564-0719.




          Section 301(a) of the Clean Water Act (CWA) provides that “the discharge of any pollutant by any person shall be unlawful” unless the discharge is in compliance with certain other sections of the Act. 33 U.S.C. 1311(a). The CWA defines “discharge of a pollutant” as “(A) any addition of any pollutant to navigable waters from any point source, (B) any addition of any pollutant to the waters of the contiguous zone or the ocean from any point source other than a vessel or other floating craft.” 33 U.S.C.1362(12). A “point source” is a “discernible, confined and discrete conveyance” and includes a “vessel or other floating craft.”33 U.S.C.1362(14). 1 More specifically, CWA section 502(8) defines “territorial seas” as “the belt of the seas measured from the line of the ordinary low water along that portion of the coast which is in direct contact with the open sea and the line marking the seaward limit of inland waters, and extending seaward a distance of three miles.” Page 9 of 198 Final 2013 VGP Fact Sheet The term “pollutant” includes, among other things, “garbage... chemical wastes...and industrial, municipal, and agricultural waste discharged into water.” The Act's definition of “pollutant” specifically excludes “sewage from vessels or a discharge incidental to the normal operation of a vessel of the Armed Forces” within the meaning of CWA §312.33 U.S.C. 1362(6). One way a person may discharge a pollutant without violating the section 301 prohibition is by obtaining authorization to discharge (referred to herein as “coverage”) under a section 402 National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit (33 U.S.C. § 1342). Under section 402(a), EPA may “issue a permit for the discharge of any pollutant, or combination of pollutants, notwithstanding section 1311(a)” upon certain conditions required by the Act.



  1. ¹, Final 2013 VGP Permit
  2., Final 2013 VGP Fact Sheet
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