Carper Touts Bill Protecting Waterways, Marine Ecosystems from Harmful Vessel Discharges

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.), top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) and senior member of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee (HSGAC), spoke on the Senate floor today before a vote to invoke cloture on a bill reauthorizing the U.S. Coast Guard and enacting the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA) — a bipartisan measure that will protect waterways and marine life in Delaware and throughout the United States from invasive species and harmful pollution.

Crafted through months of negotiations led by Senators Carper, John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and John Thune (R-S.D.), VIDA directs the EPA to craft new rules limiting ballast discharges of toxic pollution and invasive species, and empowers the U.S. Coast Guard to enforce these standards. It also gives states the ability to establish “no-discharge zones” for vulnerable areas within their borders.

The Senate voted to invoke cloture on the bill today, and it is scheduled for a vote on final passage tomorrow before going to the House for consideration. 

The Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA), an amendment to S. 140:

  • Delegates the lead role in establishing standards for discharges incidental to the normal operation of a vessel to the EPA.
  • Assigns the Coast Guard the lead role in monitoring and enforcing such standards for discharges incidental to the normal operation of a vessel.
  • Keeps existing rules in place until new standards are final and enforceable.
  • Accommodates unique regional situations. Pacific Coast ballast water exchanges will continue and the Great Lakes may set their own basin-wide standards.
  • Allows States to establish no-discharge zones for areas that require additional protection.

For the full text of the agreed upon substitute for S. 140, click here.

Today’s speech can be viewed by clicking here. Below are Senator Carper’s full remarks, as prepared for delivery:

“I rise today in support of the Coast Guard reauthorization bill and to urge our colleagues to vote yes on the pending cloture motion and on final passage of this legislation tomorrow. Ensuring that our Coast Guard—comprised of nearly 90,000 men and women across our country—has the resources to do their important work they do every day is incredibly important.  The Coast Guard, established at the behest of Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton in 1790, has played a crucial role in our country—including in my state of Delaware—from the very birth of our Nation.

“Today, we ask this branch of our military to track pollution at sea, combat illicit trafficking and smuggling, and protect maritime operations that are expanding throughout our Arctic waters—while still keeping our waters safe for recreational and cargo vessels sailing in places like the Delaware Bay. This bill before us today will increase resources for the Coast Guard by nearly 10 percent so that they are equipped to continue this important, and often life-saving, work.  This legislation also allows multi-year funding in order to procure future National Security Cutters, which will reduce costs, increase predictability and stabilize workforces.  And for a state like mine that is serious about its recreational boating, the bill would increase safety by implementing engine cut-off switches and alternate signaling devices.

“For the Coast Guard contingent based at the Indian River Inlet in Delaware, that’s halfway between Rehoboth and the Maryland line, this bill means an increase in operational and maintenance funding for personnel and boats, easier access to health care for crews and their families, better quality of life through updated leave policies, extra funding for shore-side infrastructure improvements, and clarity on inspections and enforcement procedures for vessel boardings.  The impacts of this reauthorization bill are real. They will be felt in Coast Guard contingents across the country. But this bill also includes a major win with regard to our shared environment.

“Many of my Senate colleagues have invested far more than I have—in time and effort—to bring greater efficiency and effectiveness to our nation’s management of potentially harmful ballast water discharges from vessels plying our waters.  That effort has culminated in the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act, better known as VIDA, which is contained in Title IX of the amendment before us. Specifically, the bill will go a long way, Mister President, toward preventing polluted ballast water discharges from entering our waterways, minimize the risk of introduction of invasive species in the Great Lakes and other sensitive ecosystems, and maintain important environmental protections for our waters that are enshrined in the Clean Water Act. 

“This past April, the Senate failed to invoke cloture on a prior version of this reauthorization bill.  Many of my colleagues and I were concerned that the earlier legislation failed to maintain appropriate roles for the Coast Guard and the EPA.   This new version makes sure that the EPA is responsible for setting vessel discharge standards while the Coast Guard is responsible for approving the technologies that can meet those standards and, thus, allow vessels to operate safely. 

“Mister President, as Ranking Member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, I am grateful for the excellent work done by the Senator from South Dakota (Senator Thune, the Chairman) and the Senator from Florida (Senator Nelson, the Ranking Member), and their able staffs, for working with us on this important, bipartisan bill. With the support of my Commerce Committee colleagues and the active participation of many Senators—including our Pacific Coast, Great Lakes, and East Coast partners—we have strengthened VIDA in substantial ways since our last vote on this legislation in April. 

“Let me explain how.  First of all, we have clarified that the Clean Water Act should govern this important endeavor to keep our waters clean, healthy and productive, and that the Environmental Protection Agency should take the lead in establishing standards for the discharge of waters polluted by invasive species and other substances from vessels. 

“This legislation also recognizes the expertise and experience of the Coast Guard by ensuring that it retains responsibility for determining the best available technology necessary to meet EPA’s discharge standards while also maintaining maritime safety.  In addition, the Coast Guard would assume the primary federal role in monitoring and enforcing these standards.

“As a former governor, my colleagues would say a recovering governor, however, it was critically important to me that we ensure a robust role for states, especially given that the waters in their jurisdictions are the most at risk for invasive species and pollution coming from ships.  With that in mind, we’ve ensured that states maintain a co-enforcement responsibility to ensure these federal standards are met.  The Coast Guard, in close coordination with the states, will establish a set of inspection and enforcement procedures that will ensure a common approach in the states’ enforcement of Federal vessel discharge standards and requirements.

“We have also required that governors are consulted in the establishment of discharge standards and that they can act to drive the federal agencies to issue emergency measures should invasive species appear off their shores. Governors will also be able to directly petition the EPA and Coast Guard for stronger national standards and requirements if the science says they are necessary or the technology has evolved.  EPA and the Coast Guard will be required to respond to a governor’s petition quickly, and on the merits, not sidestepping concerns that are raised. Should a state find that its waters are threatened despite the protection offered by the national standard, that state can petition EPA to establish no-discharge zones to protect those vulnerable waters from any vessel discharges, or force EPA to issue emergency orders.

“Under this legislation, Great Lakes governors—for the first time—have a defined process to adopt stronger requirements and more protective equipment on vessels entering or traveling within the Great Lakes.  In addition, a new Aquatic Nuisance Species Program is established that would address the waters of the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain.  This bill also creates special ballast water exchange requirements to help ensure protection of critical Pacific Region environments.

“And under all circumstances, no future discharge standards, regional requirements, or technology mandates can ever be weaker than the federal requirements that are in place today.  Furthermore, no state laws or regulations will be preempted unless and until the new, more protective federal standards and requirements are in place—meaning they are both final and enforceable by the Coast Guard and the states.

“This bill contains equal measures of environmental urgency and common sense.  It sets clear roles and responsibilities for the federal agencies involved in implementing it, and it provides certainty and predictability to all who rely on our coastal waters and the Great Lakes to recreate, fish, and carry our cargos.

“Many of our colleagues realize that getting to this point has been a multi-year endeavor.  In the end, what has brought us together is a common appreciation of how important our waters are to our country.  No matter how far away from the coast we may live, none of us are untouched, in some way, by the environment and resources extending from our shores. 

“Again, let me commend everyone who has helped in ways both large and small to craft the important compromise that is before us today.  With its inclusion, we will have a clear path to adopting a much-needed Coast Guard reauthorization bill with its strong VIDA provisions.  I urge my colleagues to join us in supporting it, and by doing so, demonstrating that even on the heels of last week’s elections, the Senate is still committed to hammering out principled compromises on difficult, but important issues, like these.

“People say to me all the time back home: ‘When are you going to get something done?’…I don’t care if you live on the coast, around the Great Lakes or somewhere else in our country. We all have a dog in this fight. We’re not just talking about it, and we’re not just pointing fingers at each other. We’re doing something about it. And we’re doing it by working together. I’m proud of what we’ve done, and grateful to everyone who’s had a part in that.”