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EPA Ocean Dumping Permits Explained

Posted on 11/10/2015 by Anthony Cardno

In the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act of 1972 (MPRSA), Congress empowered the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to "regulate the dumping of all types of materials into ocean waters and to prevent or strictly limit the dumping into ocean waters of any material which would adversely affect" either human health or the marine environment.

EPA has codified ocean dumping regulations in 40 CFR 220–229. These rules focus primarily on establishing and maintaining a permitting program. Under this program, EPA may issue permits for:
  • Dumping into ocean waters;
  • Transporting any material from the US (or on board any vessel or aircraft of the US from a location outside the country) for the purpose of dumping the material into ocean waters; or
  • Dumping into the territorial sea or the contiguous zone of the US.
Prohibited Ocean Dumping Activities

Certain dumping activities are prohibited out right by the MPRSA. EPA may not, for example, issue permits for the dumping of radiological, chemical, or biological warfare agents; high-level radioactive waste; or medical waste. Nor may the EPA issue permits for dredged material, for which permits are issued by the Army Corps of Engineers. [33 CFR 320–332]

Exclusions from Ocean Dumping Permit Requirements

Some materials are excluded from the ocean dumping permitting requirements, including:
  • Fish wastes;
  • Fishery resources;
  • Routine discharges of effluent incidental to vessel propulsion or operation of motor-driven equipment on vessels;
  • Construction of fixed structures and placement of materials in the ocean for purposes other than disposal (if not otherwise prohibited by other programs); and
  • Emergency dumping to safeguard life at sea. [40 CFR 220.1(c)]
How to Obtain an Ocean Dumping Permit

The requirements for applying for, obtaining, and complying with an ocean dumping permit are found in 40 CFR 220—227. As with EPA's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program under the Clean Water Act (CWA), there are several "general permits" that cover groups of similarly situated dischargers. In the absence of a general permit that covers the material you want to dump, an individual permit would be required.

The general permits for ocean dumping that EPA currently offers cover burial at sea of human remains, transportation and disposal of vessels, disposal of manmade ice piers in Antarctica, and the transport of target vessels under the Navy's SINKEX program. General permits will contain whatever terms EPA deems necessary or appropriate. Full details on the general permits can be found at 40 CFR 229.

Individual permits must be displayed on the vessel engaged in the dumping and must include specific information. The full list of required elements includes:
  1. Name of permittee;
  2. Means of conveyance and methods and procedures for release of the materials to be dumped;
  3. The port through or from which such material will be transported for dumping;
  4. A description of relevant physical and chemical properties of the materials to be dumped;
  5. The quantity of the material to be dumped expressed in tons;
  6. The disposal site;
  7. The times at which the permitted dumping may occur and the effective date and expiration date of the permit;
  8. Special provisions which, after consultation with the Coast Guard, are deemed necessary for monitoring or surveillance of the transportation or dumping;
  9. Such monitoring relevant to the assessment of the impact of permitted dumping activities on the marine environment at the disposal site as the Administrator or Regional Administrator, as the case may be, determine to be necessary or appropriate; and
  10. Any other terms and conditions determined by the Administrator, or Regional Administrator, as the case may be, to be necessary or appropriate, including, without limitation, release procedures and requirements for the continued investigation or development of alternatives to ocean dumping.
Permittees must also maintain complete records that include the physical and chemical characteristics of the material being dumped, the precise times and locations of dumping, and any other information required in the permit. This information must also be reported to the EPA within 30 days of the end of each six-month period once the permit is in effect and for six months from the expiration of the permit.

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