The Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA) became law in December 2018 attempts to resolve these issues by directing the U.S. EPA to set national standards for ballast water and directs USCG to implement and enforce the standards. The new standards are to be promulgated within two years, with the associated USCG regulations to follow within another two years. The new regulations must be at least as stringent as current standards in the VGP. It pre-empts states from establishing separate discharge standards, although state standards can remain in place until the new federal standard is fully implemented and enforceable.
The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) was first given authority to regulate ballast water to prevent the introduction and spread of AIS in 1990. However, the agency did not finalize comprehensive ballast water regulations until 2012. Throughout the 2000s and 2010s, U.S. states individually developed state-specific requirements related to the treatment and discharge of ballast water. Further, in 2008, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) initiated ballast water requirements under a Vessel General Permit (VGP). This action was taken following a 2006 U.S. District Court decision that the agency could no longer exempt vessel discharges from regulation under the Clean Water Act. This patchwork of regulations created an uncertain and complicated compliance environment for vessel owners operating on the Great Lakes. Major concerns included cost (due to separate application, certification, or registration processes for multiple states), and technical feasibility, as some treatment requirements exceeded the capabilities of current technology, among others.
VIDA recognizes the unique conditions in the Great Lakes. It maintains the requirement for ballast water exchange or flushing for ocean-going vessels entering the Seaway, and allows any Great Lakes governor to petition for a new standard or requirement, including new equipment or management practices, to address vessel discharges in the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes Commission (GLC) is charged with assessing and assisting in the development of recommendations regarding any new proposed standards or requirements.
VIDA also established a new Great Lakes and Lake Champlain Invasive Species Program at U.S. EPA, authorized at $50 million annually. Among other purposes, this includes authority to develop and promote type-approved ballast water management systems for Laker vessels. A new Coastal Aquatic Invasive Species Mitigation Grant Program is established and funded by fines and federal appropriations to help states with inspection, monitoring, and enforcement programs.