Senate Passes Murkowski-Boxer Legislation to Extend Moratorium on Discharge Permits for Commercial Vessels

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Legislation that would extend the current moratorium on a permit requirement for commercial and charter fishing vessels and other commercial vessels under 79 feet long, sponsored by U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Barbara Boxer, D-California, passed the Senate tonight by unanimous consent. The bill would provide these commercial vessels a three-year moratorium extension from permits for discharges under the Clean Water Act.

Two years ago, in the 110th Congress, bipartisan legislation introduced by Murkowski was enacted to place a two-year moratorium on the permit requirement while the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Coast Guard were directed to conduct a study to evaluate the impacts of discharges incidental to the normal operation of such vessels. The results of that study will determine whether the discharges should be regulated by EPA through National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits.

The two-year moratorium is set to expire on July 31, 2010; however, the study has proved to be difficult and time-consuming and the results have yet to be verified. It is also critical to note that it would be difficult, if not impossible, for the EPA to issue up to 140,000 permits by July 31.

“I am pleased that the Senate passed this important piece of legislation, and look forward to its passage in the House hopefully before the current moratorium expires at the end of the month,” Murkowski said. “In Alaska, the 9,700 vessels that make up the commercial and charter fishing fleets would be adversely affected if the moratorium expired. Given the near impossibility of the EPA to have a permit in place by July 31, these vessels would immediately be in violation of the Clean Water Act for an incidental discharge of any kind. It will take the EPA a significant amount of time to analyze the study and determine if these discharges need to be regulated. If so, they then would have to further develop a new permit for these vessels. Given the amount of time all of this would take, it is imperative that we extend the moratorium on a permit requirement as soon as possible.”

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