WJ Editorial

VIDA Is Game-Changer For Vessel Operators

In a year filled with legislative and regulatory victories for the barge industry, the landmark bipartisan passage and signing of the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA, sometimes also known as CVIDA if “commercial” is added to the acronym) didn’t receive enough notice. It is a major accomplishment for the industry that will significantly ease the regulatory burden on both commercial vessel operators and recreational boaters.

The barge industry’s top legislative priority for the past several years, VIDA, which was signed into law December 4, replaces what The American Waterways Operators has long described as a confusing and inefficient patchwork of overlapping state and federal discharge regulations.

In replacing that patchwork, VIDA prohibits state and local authorities from adopting or enforcing any regulations related to vessel incidental discharges unless identical to the federal standards to be promulgated by the EPA. States are also prohibited from requiring permits for incidental discharges from small vessels and fishing vessels.

VIDA immediately repealed the Small Vessel General Permit regulations (SVGP) for vessels under 79 feet long. For those vessels, discharges incidental to normal operations no longer require National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits. This change alone should significantly unburden operators.

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For vessels of 79 feet or longer, the current VGP regulations, finalized in 2013, will remain in effect until new regulations are crafted. Under the old law, the general permit was to be renewed every five years. Back in October, the Environmental Protection Agency notified stakeholders that it would be late in re-issuing the VGP.  But as a result of the passage and signing of VIDA, EPA said, notices by vessels of intent to discharge may be submitted after the former December 18 deadline.

The act’s passage was by no means a foregone conclusion. As recently as April, the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2017 failed to pass the Senate by the required two-thirds votes, due to the inclusion of a VIDA provision and the defection of three previously pro-VIDA senators.

But by December, wavering legislators had been brought onboard. The Frank LoBiondo Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2018, which included a VIDA provision, passed the Senate by a bipartisan vote of 94-6. AWO said the act’s passage was a result of intense negotiations between the Senate Commerce Committee and the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works over more than six months.

VIDA means common-sense regulatory relief without sacrificing water protections. Everyone involved in its successful enactment deserves the thanks of all mariners.