UPDATE: Vessel Incidental Discharge Act Signed Into Law

The United States (U.S.) will be changing regulation of discharges from vessels, including ballast water. The law will reauthorize U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) programs including major changes to US ballast water management (BWM) regulations and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Vessel General Permit – through the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA).  The bill was signed by President Trump on December 4, 2018.

VIDA impacts how vessel discharge standards will be developed and monitored in the U.S. VIDA will also repeal the Small Vessel General Permit that was applicable to vessels less than 79 feet in length.

VIDA gives the EPA responsibility for establishing standards for the discharge of pollutants from vessels and the USCG responsibility for prescribing, administering, and enforcing the standards.  EPA has a two-year period to promulgate the regulation.  The USCG may review and has a 60-day window to concur with the regulation.

Until the final regulations are promulgated, the 2013 VGP shall remain in force and effective.  The new regulations being promulgated cannot be less stringent than the 2013 VGP or USCG BWM regulations.  States cannot enact more stringent standards unless the EPA is petitioned.  Alaska greywater regulations remain in effect.  VIDA would also limit State fees on vessels.

VIDA states that ballast water discharge standards are to take into account if an organism is nonviable.  USCG type approval testing of ballast water management system (BWMS) is to be updated to include methods that evaluate organism viability.  Many BWMS manufacturers have stated that VIDA aligns the USCG and BWM Convention type approval testing. This is not a simple case. The USCG has 180 days to publish a draft policy letter describing BWMS type approval testing methods and protocols for a public comment period.  Within one year, the final USCG policy letter needs be published.  Therefore, BWMS undergoing testing according to new protocols cannot begin until approximately late 2019.

The impacts of VIDA on the ballast water regulations will take a while to evaluate.  EPA will need to consider many items when developing the discharge standards.  Most recent USCG actions (i.e., extensions to compliance dates) have been based on policy letters – not through regulatory text.  Choice Ballast Solutions will monitor developments and provide shipowners with updates.

Submitted by Debra DiCianna, Choice Ballast Solutions, Senior Compliance Engineer. Debra has served on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Environmental Technology Verification (ETV) Ballast Water Tech Panel. Contact Debra at