Friday, June 13, 2008

Meetings On Dry Cargo Residue Discharges In The Great Lakes

Jun 6: The Coast Guard announced two public meetings for the May 23, 2008 notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) [73 FR 30014-30029] on dry cargo residue (DCR) discharges in the Great Lakes and its supporting Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) to be held in Duluth, Minnesota, and Cleveland, Ohio, in July 2008. The meetings are scheduled for Duluth, MN, July 15, 2008, 1-5 PM; and Cleveland, OH, July 17, 2008, 1-5 PM. The proposed rule would allow the continued discharge of certain non-toxic and non-hazardous bulk dry cargo residues in the Great Lakes. Existing prohibitions on discharges in certain areas would be continued, and additional sensitive and protected areas would be defined as no-discharge zones. Recordkeeping and reporting requirements would be imposed, and the voluntary use of measures to control residues would be encouraged. Comments and related material must be received on or before July 22, 2008.

Under Coast Guard regulations that implement the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, 33 U.S.C. 1901 et seq., DCR is an operational waste and constitutes garbage, the discharge of which into the navigable waters of the United States is prohibited. If these regulations were strictly enforced on the Great Lakes, they would put an end to the practice of cargo sweeping. However, since 1993, Great Lakes ships have operated under a Coast Guard "interim enforcement policy" (IEP) that allows "incidental discharges" of non-toxic and non-hazardous DCR on the Great Lakes. The IEP allows cargo sweeping only in defined waters, most of which are relatively deep and far from shore. Additionally, the IEP prohibits or restricts discharges in special areas that are considered environmentally sensitive.

In 2004, Congress extended for the second time the IEP, this time until September 30, 2008. Section 623 of Public Law 108-293 gave the Coast Guard authority to regulate the discharge of DCR on the Great Lakes, notwithstanding any other law. House Report 108-617, the conference report prepared in support of the 2004 legislation, states: "It is expected that the [IEP] will be made permanent or replaced with an alternative regime that appropriately balances the needs of maritime commerce and environmental protection . . .''

On January 13, 2004, the Coast Guard announced in the Federal Register (69 FR 1994) that, if we could not promulgate new regulations before the expiration of congressional authorization for the IEP, they would begin enforcing a zero discharge policy on the Great Lakes as soon as the IEP expires. Enforcement of such a policy would end the practice of cargo sweeping on the Great Lakes. This could cause economic hardship and require a significant expenditure of Coast Guard resources. We are reluctant to impose such costs if there is no meaningful offsetting benefit to the environment. Therefore, they say, "in exercising our regulatory authority over Great Lakes DCR discharges, we seek an appropriate balance, as Congress intended, between commercial and environmental considerations. We also seek to avoid or minimize any gap during which enforcement of a zero discharge policy takes place by default."

Access the docket for this rulemaking with details on the meetings, the proposed rules, draft EIS and related background information (
click here). Access a June 12, article in the Muskegon Chronicle by Jeff Alexander on the DCR issue (click here).