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Maritime Sewage Ban Considered for California Coast

September 20, 2010

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) has proposed a new regulation that would ban all sewage discharges to the marine waters along California’s coastline from large cruise ships and most other large ocean-going ships. The proposed regulation is aimed at protecting economic and ecological interests associated with California and would establish the largest coastal “no discharge zone” in the United States.

The U.S. Clean Water Act authorizes the EPA to establish vessel sewage no-discharge zones if necessary to protect and restore water quality. The State of California first asked the EPA to establish such a zone in 2006.

Specifically, the discharge ban will prohibit sewage discharges from all 300+ ton vessels that operate in California waters, including all cruise ships and cargo ships that have sufficient sewage holding-tank capacity (defined in the rule as two days’ storage capacity). The new ban will apply to all coastal waters out to three miles from the coastline and all bays and estuaries subject to tidal influence. There are nine small no-discharge zones currently designated in California, which include several National Marine Sanctuaries.

Other vessel sewage discharges will continue to be regulated under existing Clean Water Act requirements, which generally require sewage to be treated by approved marine sanitation devices prior to discharge.

The EPA is accepting public comments on the proposed regulation until November 1, 2010.

For other articles on maritime regulation and legislation click the following links, "International Maritime Organization Approves Emission Limits for Ships Operating in North American Coastal Waters" (April 7, 2010); "Highlights from IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee Meetings July 2009" (August 31, 2009).