Tuesday, December 15, 2009

WDNR Environmental Assessment of Vessel General Permit

The Wisconsin DNR (WDNR) has recently completed its environmental assessment for the proposed issuance of a general permit to regulate the discharge of ballast water from ships into the waters of the State. This assessment, completed to comply with the Wisconsin Environmental Policy Act (WEPA) clears the way for WDNR to issue its final discharge permit.

On February 23, 2009, the WDNR public noticed a general permit for commercial vessels which includes effluent discharge standards for ballast water. This permit also included an aggressive compliance schedule for implementation. The permit specifies biological effluent discharge standards and biocide effluent limits that, based upon best professional judgment, represent the best practicable technology currently available pursuant to § NR 220.21, Wis. Adm. Code. WDNR believes a permit for regulating ballast water beyond what EPA has developed is necessary to prevent the release of additional aquatic invasive species (AIS) and protect water quality standards in Wisconsin. The 2010-11 biennial budget bill signed by Governor Doyle in July 2009 provided for statutory authority to establish a discharge performance standard for ballast water.

Wisconsin’s General Permit will require discharges of ballast water to meet numeric technology based effluent limits based upon the number of living organisms in the discharge by 2014 for all existing ocean-going ships. Vessels constructed on or after January 1, 2012 would have to meet these requirements prior to operation. The permit is intended to minimize the further release of aquatic invasive species. The general permit requires all ocean-going vessels to meet discharge standards set at 100 times more stringent than the IMO standards. This discharge standard is similar to that adopted by New York in its § 401 Water Quality Certification. Plans and specifications of the treatment systems would require approval by the Department, to confirm the treatment has been approved by the USCG or an equivalent approval process, is effective and would comply with the discharge standards.

There is an exemption in this permit when ballast water is pumped from a vessel off-ship for treatment on another vessel or to a ballast water treatment system on-shore. Additionally, the permit allows for an alternative discharge limit, if the technology is not available to meet the discharge standards by December 31, 2011.

The federal general permit (VGP), effective December 19, 2008, that applies to all discharges incidental to the normal operation of a vessel1 includes a technology based standard for all ocean-going vessels. This standard has been required by the United States Coast Guard (USCG) for all vessels that enter the St. Lawrence Seaway since March 2008 and has proven ineffective as the introduction of aquatic invasive species has continued. On August 28, 2009, the USCG published in the federal register a new proposed ballast water discharge standard rule which requires a phased approach to ballast water discharge standards, with IMO being required in phase-one, and up to 1000 times IMO standards in phase-two. WDNR general permit contains technology based effluent limitations that represent the best practicable control technology currently available.

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