Ocean Dumping Permits
The Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA), also
known as the Ocean Dumping Act, regulates the disposition of any material
in the ocean, unless expressly excluded under the MPRSA. The MPRSA prohibits or restricts (primarily in terms of material type, amount and location) ocean dumping that would adversely affect human health, welfare, amenities, the marine environment, ecological systems or economic potentialities. Section 101 of the MPRSA (33 U.S.C. 1411) generally prohibits the transportation of any material for the purpose of dumping, except as authorized by a permit.
On this page:
- Who needs an ocean dumping permit?
- What are ocean waters?
- What criteria does EPA use to evaluate applications for ocean dumping permits?
- Who issues ocean dumping permits?
- What types of conditions are included in ocean dumping permits?
- What kinds of ocean dumping permits are issued under the MPRSA?
- Anyone transporting material from the United States for the purpose of dumping it into ocean waters.
- Anyone in a vessel or aircraft registered in the United States or flying the United States flag transporting material from any location for the purpose of dumping it into ocean waters.
- Any United States department, agency or instrumentality transporting material from any location for the purpose of dumping it into ocean waters.
- Any other person dumping material transported from a location outside the United States into the territorial sea of the United States, or into a zone contiguous to the territorial sea of the United States, to the extent that it may affect the territorial sea or the territory of the United States.
Ocean waters are the open seas lying seaward of the “baseline” from which the “territorial seas” are measured. Generally speaking, the baseline is the mean lower low water line (ordinary low water mark) along the coast or “closing lines” that are drawn on maps across rivers mouths and openings of bays and that are depicted on official United States Nautical Charts (i.e., National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) nautical charts for a region). For purposes of the MPRSA, the territorial sea extends seaward to three nautical miles (nm) and the contiguous zone extends seaward from the baseline 12 nm.
The ocean dumping criteria apply to the review and evaluation of all MPRSA permit applications and consider, among other things:
- the need for dumping;
- the environmental impact of the dumping, including the effect of dumping on marine ecosystems, shorelines and beaches;
- the effect of the dumping on esthetic, recreational or economic values;
- the adverse effect of dumping on other uses of the ocean including navigation, scientific study, fishing and resource exploitation activities; and
- land-based alternatives to ocean dumping.
The MPRSA ocean dumping criteria are published at 40 CFR 228.
EPA is responsible for issuing permits for ocean dumping of all material except dredged materials. Dredged material refers to material excavated or dredged from the navigable waters of the United States.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is the permitting authority for ocean dumping of dredged material. USACE applies EPA’s ocean dumping criteria to determine whether to authorize ocean disposal of dredged material under MPRSA permits (or, in the case of federal projects, to dispose of dredged material in the ocean itself). MPRSA permits for and federal projects involving ocean disposal of dredged material are subject to EPA review and concurrence.
Dumping that occurs in, or affects, ocean waters of a state also may be subject to review for consistency with the enforceable policies of a state’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)-approved coastal zone program under the Coastal Zone Management Act.
MPRSA permits designate and include:
- the type of material authorized to be transported for dumping or to be dumped;
- the amount of material authorized to be transported for dumping or to be dumped;
- the location where the transport will be terminated or such dumping will occur;
- such requirements, limitations or conditions as are necessary to assure consistency with any approved site management plan pursuant to MPRSA section 102(c);
- any special provisions for the monitoring and surveillance of the transportation and dumping; and
- any such matters that EPA, or in the case of ocean dumping of dredged material EPA or USACE, as the case may be, deems appropriate.
Under MPRSA section 103, USACE may issue ocean dumping permits for dredged material and must apply MPRSA requirements directly to federal projects involving ocean disposal of dredged material.
The MPRSA section 102 gives EPA the authority to issue various categories of ocean dumping permits, including general permits, special permits, emergency permits and research permits, for materials other than dredged material.
For more information about permits issued under the MPRSA, please visit the following Web pages:
- General Permits
- Special and Research Permits
- Emergencies and Emergency Permits
- Ocean Disposal of Fish Wastes
- Ocean Disposal of Dredged Material
How does the MPRSA apply to ocean carbon dioxide (CDR) or solar radiation management (SRM) activities (also called marine geoengineering)?
The MPRSA regulates the transportation and disposition of materials into the ocean unless expressly excluded under the MPRSA. An MPRSA permit may be needed for field research, large-scale field trials, and field deployment of CDR or SRM activities if the activities involve the disposition of material into the ocean environment. The MPRSA prohibits or restricts ocean dumping that would adversely affect human health, welfare, amenities, the marine environment, ecological systems or economic potentialities.
Potential permit applicants for ocean CDR or SRM activities should first review the requirements for MPRSA permit applications in the Ocean Dumping Regulations (40 CFR 220-229) and then contact the primary contact for Ocean Dumping Management Program at EPA Headquarters to discuss the applicability of the MPRSA to their proposed activities and to determine what type of MPRSA permit (research, special, or general permit) would be most appropriate.