Portman Effort Creates New Approach for Regulating Ballast Water Discharge for Vessels 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), co-chair of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force, today applauded President Trump for signing the Frank Lobiondo Coast Guard Authorization Act, which includes language he negotiated to establish a rulemaking framework for vessel discharge regulations to ensure the Great Lakes are protected against pollution and the spread of invasive species while creating regulatory certainty for the competitive shipping industry across the region. 

“Today is a great day for those who enjoy the natural beauty of Lake Erie and our freshwater treasures as well as those who make a living on the Great Lakes,” said Portman. “This law helps protects the Great Lakes against the spread of invasive species and pollution while ensuring that our shipping industry in Ohio and across the region is competitive. It is the product of bipartisan work and is a balanced legislative solution to ensure the regulations regarding vessel discharges protect the ecosystem in the Great Lakes. I’m proud of this legislation and want to thank Senator Stabenow for working with me to get it across the finish line.” 

NOTE: The Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA) establishes a framework for the Environmental Protection Agency and the Coast Guard to establish national ballast water and incidental discharge rules. Currently, discharges are regulated through different state permits under Section 402 of the Clean Water Act, creating a patchwork of state permit requirements in 26 states. Under the bill, the EPA will have the lead role in establishing national standards for discharges, while the Coast Guard will have the primary role for monitoring and enforcing these standards and ensuring vessel safety. These regulations will help prevent pollution and ensure that ballast water does not transport invasive species from one body of water to another along a vessel’s shipping route, while providing greater regulatory certainty for the shipping industry across the Great Lakes region. The bill also provides states with robust opportunities to participate in the standard setting process and to ensure compliance when the regulations are implemented.   

The bill also contains policies that Senators Portman and Stabenow and other Senators in the region secured specifically for the Great Lakes basin. This includes:

  • Allowing Great Lakes states to cooperatively establish unique and more stringent discharge standards or best management practice (BMP) for vessels traveling in the Great Lakes.
  • Authorizing $50 million annually for a new program within the EPA’s Great Lakes National Program Office.  This program will enable funding to be provided to monitor for and respond to outbreaks of aquatic invasive species in the Great Lakes and to help develop new ballast control technologies for vessels in the Great Lakes.   
  • Authorizing $5 million per year for the Great Lakes Commission to be a convener on ballast water discharge regulations, of which all Great Lakes States and Canada are represented. 

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