Ballast reforms blocked in U.S. Senate

The U.S. Senate has rejected legislation that would have simplified regulatory oversight of vessel discharges. Last week, the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA) was brought to the Senate floor as part of a larger piece of legislation (S. 1129) reauthorizing the various programs of the U.S. Coast Guard. In a procedural motion to take up the legislation on the Senate floor, opponents blocked the bill by a vote of 56-42. Sixty votes were necessary to begin debate.

For many years, Great Lakes ports, vessel operators and maritime labor have urged Congress to reform the regulatory landscape surrounding vessel discharges, particularly ballast water discharges. Currently, two federal agencies (Coast Guard & U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) regulate ballast water discharges under two different statutes. Additionally, 26 states have their own ballast discharge regulations, including seven of the eight Great Lakes states. There is no requirement that these rules be harmonized and in some cases they conflict with each other. Because ships are mobile and operate in multiple states, this chaotic regulatory landscape threatens commerce.

To address these concerns, the legislation would have consolidated regulatory oversight of vessel discharges in the U.S. Coast Guard. The legislation would have maintained current Coast Guard ballast discharge rules, but would have exempted vessel discharges from the federal Clean Water Act—effectively removing the EPA and state governments from regulating in this area, although states would be allowed to participate in enforcement.

The Coast Guard Authorization Act also included other key provisions for the Great Lakes, the fate of which is now uncertain. The bill included Congressional authorization for construction of a new heavy icebreaker on the Great Lakes. Additionally, the legislation would have established a new Coast Guard Center of Expertise for Great Lakes oil spill preparedness.

The following list shows how Great Lakes Senators voted. Yeas indicate those who supported the legislation. Nays indicate those who opposed.

Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN)
Sen. Todd Young (R-IN)
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI)
Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA)
Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH)
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA)

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI)
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN)
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL)
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY)

Maritime Editorial