According to the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, a legislative problem is building over what may be brewing in the livewells and bilges of our boats. This issue has the potential to landlock many private boats.
Here is the problem. For 35 years, the Environmental Protection Agency has exempted recreational boaters from the regulations that protected aquatic resources from pollutants and invasive species transported in the ballast water of commercial vessels. In 2006, a federal judge overturned the exemption. If not corrected by legislation, boaters would be required to obtain onerous federal or state permits for normal incidental discharges such as bilge water, deck runoff and engine cooling water. Boaters also could face oppressive fines for noncompliance.The ruling goes into effect Sept. 30, unleashing not only a layer of new regulations from the EPA, but creating a new bureaucracy to deal with 18 million boaters applying for the permits. Commercial vessels tend to travel far and move large quantities of water held in bilges and ballast tanks. They were long ago recognized as major transplant mechanisms for problematic invasive species. Now, on a smaller scale, we have worries over small private boats moving invasive species — such as quagga mussels — among our domestic waterways. But is the complex, burdensome and perhaps very expensive suite of regulations applicable to commercial vessels really the best way to control the potential for moving invasive species by private boats? More good questions: Can private beleaguered boaters afford the expense and time to comply with regulations they will have trouble understanding? What kind of bureaucracy will we need to pay for to administer and enforce the requirements on private boaters? This is scary. Private boaters in general do not have the legal expertise nor the financial resources to cope with the regulations that apply to commercial vessels. Our representative groups are working for us. The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation held a Capitol Hill breakfast briefing this week sponsored by the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society where members of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus and other interested parties were informed about the importance and status of the Clean Boating Act of 2008. If the legislation passes, it could save recreational boaters and anglers from having to comply with Clean Water Act regulations originally designed for cargo container ships, cruise ships and supertankers — not recreational boats.Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., introduced SB 2766, the Clean Boating Act, in March. The legislation would restore the EPA exemption for recreational boats. In May, Reps. Candice Miller, R-Mich., and Gene Taylor, D-Miss., who co-chair the boating caucus, introduced HR 2550, the Recreational Boating Act of 2007. The language of HR 2550 and the language of SB 2667 will be the same in the final version.
Passage of the Clean Boating Act would re-establish the exemption for
Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a new nonprofit group providing seafaring opportunities for those in need.