U.S. Congressman Frank A. LoBiondo (NJ-02), ranking member of the House Coast Guard & Maritime Transportation Subcommittee, has secured until December 2013 an extension of the moratorium from Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), state regulations and fines governing incidental discharges from commercial fishing vessels and all other commercial vessels less than 79 feet. The extension authored by LoBiondo (H.R. 5301) was approved today in the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee's mark-up.
"Effective 30 days from now, commercial fishermen, charter and tour boat operators, and owners of other commercial vessels less than 79 feet will have to apply for and receive individual permits from the EPA to discharge from their vessels such things as deck wash, bilge water, and the condensation from air conditioning units. Vessels that operate without these permits could be subject to citizen lawsuits and daily fines that exceed $32,000 per violation. To make matters worse, the EPA has informed Congress that they do not have the resources to process the hundreds of thousands of permits that would be required," said LoBiondo. "With our economy still struggling to recover, the government must not enact federal penalties which could discourage economic growth and job creation. The fines that are scheduled to be levied against our commercial fishermen for incidental charges will be devastating to local South Jersey businesses."
In 2006, a federal court in California ruled that the EPA had to regulate the release of ballast water, bilge water, deck wash, rain water runoff and other incidental discharges from vessels under the Clean Water Act. Two (2) federal agencies and over 28 states have added additional and often contradictory regulations on top of the federal standard.
"South Jersey has the second biggest fishing port on the East Coast with the Port of Cape May. In fact, it is the fourth in the nation, landing over 11 million pounds of seafood worth nearly $74 million last year alone. This industry supports thousands of jobs, but like all industry, this one is suffering during this recession," continued LoBiondo. "This is the absolute worse time for the EPA and the states to threaten fishermen with tens of thousands in daily fines if they fail to abide by arbitrary regulations."
With the current moratorium expiring this month, LoBiondo's efforts permit the extension to run through December 2013 upon approval by the full House and Senate of the measure. Commercial vessels (except fishing) over 79 feet will still need to comply with the EPA standards and all recreational vessels, regardless of size, are permanently exempt from the regulations. LoBiondo continues to work with House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar (MN-08) on a permanent solution that will establish a single, nationwide standard for ballast water and incidental discharges.