WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senators Tom Carper (D-Del.), top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee and senior member of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, and John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, which has jurisdiction over the U.S. Coast Guard, issued the following statements on an agreement for reauthorizing the Coast Guard and establishing a framework for the service to enforce an EPA-led standard setting initiative for national ballast water discharge rules through the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA).
“Thanks to months of hard work, we have been able to reach a strong compromise that protects waters across our country from the environmental and economic risk of the spread of invasive species contained in ballast water, while also providing regulatory certainty for vessel owners and mariners. To reach this agreement, Senators Thune and Nelson and I did not settle for what was easy or what was expedient. These improvements have taken a great deal of time and energy, they are the right thing to do,” said Carper. “This bipartisan compromise strengthens ballast discharge standards in an environmentally protective way. Specifically, it will reduce the risks posed by ballast water discharges that enters our waterways, minimize the likelihood of introducing invasive species along our coasts and in the Great Lakes, while still ensuring these discharges are regulated under the Clean Water Act. This bill shows that we can keep our vessels moving in and out of our waterways while protecting our environment and marine life at the same time. As Ranking Member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, I was proud to be at the table during negotiations to see this compromise across the finish line and find a responsible way to pass the Coast Guard Reauthorization agreement. Thank you to Senator Thune and Senator Nelson for working with me on this important bipartisan bill.”
“This agreement to have the Coast Guard enforce standards established through an EPA-led process will create needed clarity for vessel operators while remaining sensitive to local concerns about invasive species,” said Thune. “I appreciate Sen. Tom Carper for working with me on this important issue. This language is a victory for both the environment and commerce.”
The Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA):
- Delegates the lead role in establishing standards for discharges incidental to the normal operation of a vessel to the EPA.
- Assigns the Coast Guard the lead role in monitoring and enforcing such standards for discharges incidental to the normal operation of a vessel.
- Keeps existing rules in place until new standards are final and enforceable.
- Accommodates unique regional situations. Pacific Coast ballast water exchanges will continue and the Great Lakes may set their own basin-wide standards.
- Allows States to establish no-discharge zones for areas that require additional protection.
Other highlights of the U.S. Coast Guard authorization for fiscal years 2018-2019 included in S. 140:
- Maritime drug and border enforcement – includes new authorities to combat illicit trafficking and smuggling and transnational criminal organizations by furthering interagency cooperation, combating concealment of bulk cash, and increasing the Coast Guard’s ability to use informants.
- Multiyear contracting – authorizes the Coast Guard Commandant to utilize several new acquisition tools, including multiyear funding for procuring future National Security Cutters. These changes will allow the Coast Guard to reduce the price of follow-on vessels and give shipyards greater predictability, stabilizing workforces.
- Authorization level – authorizes the U.S. Coast Guard for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 at $10.1 billion and $10.6 billion. The previous Coast Guard authorization, enacted in 2016, authorized $9.1 billion for the service for fiscal years 2016 and 2017.
- Arctic operations – directs the Coast Guard to conduct a review of the assets and personnel required to ensure the safety and security of the Arctic.
- Recreational boating – increases safety and clarifies requirements for recreational boating safety by implementing the installation of engine cut-off switches and alternate signaling devices.
Senate approval of S. 140, as amended, will return it to the House of Representatives for consideration. On April 18, 2018, a 56-42 vote left the legislation short of the 60 votes necessary to advance through the Senate. Prior to the mid-term elections, an agreement was reached to hold a cloture vote on the measure on Tuesday, November 13, followed by a vote on final passage on Wednesday afternoon.
For the full text of the agreed upon substitute for S. 140, click here.