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Delaying EPA Fishing Boat Discharge Rules

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. OBERSTAR. Madam Speaker, both of these bills have passed the House, have been duly fully considered by the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, reported to the House and passed substantially. We combined them in this measure to send them to the other body, where we expect prompt action to be taken to send the bills on to the President.

I rise in support of H.R. 5301. This bill extends a provision prohibiting the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and States from requiring permits under Section 402 of the Clean Water Act for certain discharges that are incidental to the normal operation of vessels less than 79 feet in length. H.R. 5301 also reauthorizes EPA's National Estuary Program.

I'd like to thank the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. LoBiondo) and the gentleman from New York (Mr. Bishop) for their work on this legislation.

Title I of H.R. 5301 extends a narrowly-tailored provision enacted by Congress in 2008 to establish a moratorium permit requirements under the Clean Water Act for certain discharges from commercial fishing vessels and other commercial vessels. This title ensures that EPA has sufficient time to consider the implications of discharges incidental to the normal operation of a vessel, while preserving the goals of the Clean Water Act to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the nation's waters.

When Congress established the moratorium two years ago, EPA was directed to conduct a study on discharges incidental to the normal operation of a vessel. This study was intended to provide EPA and Congress with additional information on the nature, types, volumes, and composition of vessel discharges, and the potential impact of these discharges on human health, welfare, and the environment.

EPA completed this study earlier this year and determined that discharges from these smaller vessels are not benign. Appropriately, EPA plans on bringing these vessels within the scope of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, NPDES, program. Currently, however, EPA does not have the framework in place or the resources to expand NPDES coverage to these smaller vessels.

Without an extension, the permit prohibition expires on July 31, 2010. H.R. 5301 extends the current moratorium to December 18, 2013. This will allow EPA time to implement the appropriate Clean Water Act mechanisms for controlling, minimizing, and properly addressing these types of vessel discharges. It will also allow the agency to plan for the inclusion of these smaller vessels when the agency renews its Vessel General Permits program.

Title I of H.R. 5301 was previously included in H.R. 3619, the ``Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010'', which passed the House on November 2, 2009.

Title II of H.R. 5301 reauthorizes the National Estuary Program. Title II consists of the text of H.R. 4715, the ``Clean Estuaries Act of 2010'', as passed by the House on April 15, 2010. Estuaries and associated coastal areas are major economic forces for the nation. Commercial and recreational fishing annually accounts for $185 billion in revenues, and more than two million direct jobs. Estuaries are habitat for approximately 75 percent of the U.S. commercial fish catch and 80 to 90 percent of the recreational fish catch. Beyond fishing, estuaries produce significant economic value through tourism, energy production, and navigation. Estuaries also provide recreational opportunities such as boating, fishing, swimming, surfing, and bird watching. The University of California and the Ocean Foundation have determined that, on an annual basis, ``beach-going'' generates up to $30 billion of economic value, and that ``coastal wildlife viewing'' generates up to $49 billion.

Title II includes four important modifications to the existing National Estuary Program.

First, Title II calls for increased transparency and accountability through regular evaluation and management plan updates with a public disclosure requirement.

Second, the title requires Federal agencies to be active partners in the restoration and protection of the estuaries where they are situated. This includes taking part in the development of the management plans, cooperating and coordinating their activities to implement the plans, and considering their financial responsibilities under any estuary management plan when submitting their annual budget requests.

Third, Title II requires programmatic changes to the National Estuary Program such as identifying vulnerabilities to climate change and developing responsive adaptation actions; engaging in educational activities to better inform the public about their local estuaries; requiring that estuary programs consider sustainable commercial activities in the watershed; and ensuring that commercial entities along estuary waterfronts will be active participants in estuary programs.

Fourth, this title increases the authorization for the program from $35 million to $50 million per year and establishes a minimum funding level for each of the 28 approved estuaries in the program of $1.25 million per year. If the program were fully funded at $50 million, 12 new estuaries could enter the National Estuary Program and each be funded at a level of $1.25 million. EPA reports that entities representing 38 additional estuaries have expressed interest in joining the National Estuary Program.

H.R. 4715, the ``Clean Estuaries Act of 2010,'' was considered by the House earlier this year and passed by a roll call vote of 278-128. I am pleased to say that we received solid support on both sides of the aisle.

I strongly urge my colleagues to join me in supporting H.R. 5301.

I reserve the balance of my time.


Mr. OBERSTAR. I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Yes, indeed I will say, first of all to compliment the gentleman from New Jersey on his leadership on the issue of vessel discharge. He has been a champion on this subject. We have heard his strong appeal, his reasoned approach to the issue. That's why we moved the bill earlier. We now joined it with this estuaries bill.

We expect always with hope that the other body acts promptly, but if not, there are backup plans to deal with the vessel discharge issue in advance of the deadline that the distinguished gentleman from New Jersey cited. We are together on this. We are going to assure that the issue is resolved. And hopefully, both of these bills, combined in this fashion, will bring enough interest in the other body to have a concentration of effort to pass both measures together.


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