The U.S. Coast Guard released policy guidelines March 9, 2011, to assist agency staff in monitoring inspections and evaluating the compliance of U.S. and foreign-flagged commercial vessels with EPA’s general permit for discharges incidental to normal vessel operation. Under the policy guidelines, which were developed in consultation with EPA, the Coast Guard will report permit noncompliance to EPA for enforcement.

The vessel general permit provides requirements under the Clean Water Act (CWA) for discharges incidental to normal vessel operation, such as bilge water, ballast water and deck washdown discharges. Under the CWA, vessel pollutant discharges not covered by the vessel general permit are unlawful unless they are exempt or covered by another CWA permit. Vessel owners or operators must perform training, inspections, monitoring, and reporting, and conduct assessments and corrective actions as necessary. They must also submit a notice of intent to require permit coverage and submit a one-time permit report 30 to 36 months after obtaining permit coverage.

In 2006, a federal court ordered EPA to begin regulating ballast water and other discharges under the CWA NPDES program. Nw. Envtl. Advocates v. EPA, No. 03‑05760 (N.D. Cal. 2006).