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National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES)


Incidental Discharge Permitting

Section 402 (PDF)(8 pp, 165 KB, About PDF) of the Clean Water Act (CWA) establishes authority for the NPDES permitting program to regulate the discharge of pollutants to waters of the United States. Since 2008, EPA regulated discharges incidental to the normal operation of a commercial (i.e., non-military, non-recreational) vessel when operating as a means of transportation (i.e., “incidental discharges”) under the NPDES permitting program. This includes a broad range of incidental discharges such as ballast water, bilgewater, graywater (e.g., water from sinks, showers), and deck washdown and runoff.  EPA controled these incidental discharges primarily through two NPDES general permits: the Vessel General Permit (VGP) and the Small Vessel General Permit (sVGP).

On December 4, 2018, the President signed into law the Frank LoBiondo Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2018 (PDF) (175 pp, 566 K, About PDF). Title IX of that law, titled the “Vessel Incidental Discharge Act” or more commonly known as “VIDA,” restructures the way EPA and the USCG are to regulate incidental discharges in the future, including prohibiting EPA and the states from permitting these discharges under the NPDES permitting program. Rather, these discharges will be regulated under a new CWA Section 312(p) program: Uniform National Standards for Discharges Incidental to Normal Operation of Vessels. VIDA phases out provisions of the VGP and existing USCG regulations over time (approximately 4 years), replacing these with EPA-developed National Standards of Performance (NSPs) and USCG implementation, compliance, and enforcement regulations for those NSPs. This law also makes the permitting moratorium permanent for incidental discharges—other than ballast water—from small vessels and commercial fishing vessels.

Information on the regulation and control of other types of vessel discharges, such as the control of sewage under Section 312 of the CWA, is at EPA’s Vessel Discharges web area.