Potential Impacts of Offshore Legislation on Industry

Jonathan K. Waldron and Stefanos N. Roulakis

The U.S. House of Representatives has introduced legislation that could potentially greatly alter the landscape for oil, gas, and wind installation and decommissioning activities on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf (“OCS”). Stakeholders should examine the legislation for impacts to their operations.

New Development

The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure marked up and approved H.R. 3409, the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2019 (“2019 CGAA”) on June 26, 2019. This legislation, if enacted, could have significant impacts on how oil, gas, and wind vessel activities are conducted on the OCS. Of particular note, the legislation could have an outsized effect on offshore wind in the United States, which is at a nascent stage and requires installation activities of the type contemplated in the 2019 CGAA.

Background

In January 2017, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) proposed to overturn decades of precedent with regard to offshore operations potentially subject to the Jones Act in its “Proposed Modification and Revocation of Ruling Letters Relating to Customs Application of the Jones Act to the Transportation of Certain Merchandise and Equipment Between Coastwise Points” (the “Notice”). The Notice, which was published in the CBP Customs Bulletin, proposed the modification of approximately 25 CBP rulings that delineated the difference between “equipment of the vessel,” the transportation of which does not implicate the Jones Act, and “merchandise,” which may only be transported by qualified vessels under the Jones Act.

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The Vision Is Clearer—Offshore Wind Farms Are Appearing on the U.S. Horizon

Joan M. Bondareff

The United States is on the precipice of developing a robust offshore wind (“OSW”) industry. This article reviews recent developments on the federal and state level that have made it so.

The Trump administration, while demonstrating a clear preference for fossil fuels, has continued the past precedents of permitting offshore wind farms. To date, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (“BOEM”) at the Department of the Interior has approved 16 commercial wind leases, and more sales in wind energy areas (“WEAs”) along the Atlantic Coast are expected later this year. A major auction was conducted on December 14, 2018, for three leases off the coast of Massachusetts, resulting in a total auction price of $405 million. Even BOEM found this to be a “bonanza.” The winners were Equinor (former Statoil), Vineyard Wind (Copenhagen and Avangrid renewables), and Mayflower (Shell and EDP Renewables). The West Coast and Hawaii are considering floating wind platforms.

The first commercial OSW farm has been in operation for over one year in state waters without any hiccups in providing clean reliable energy to the residents of Block Island, Rhode Island. European developers are partnering with U.S. companies to share their expertise in OSW development, and the production tax credit was left intact in the 2017 tax reform legislation.

These are all positive signs for the U.S. OSW market. In addition, the price of both wind and solar is declining and becoming more competitive with natural gas. Continue reading “The Vision Is Clearer—Offshore Wind Farms Are Appearing on the U.S. Horizon”

Ballast Water Management—Latest Developments

Jeanne M. Grasso

Much has changed over the past year regarding compliance with the U.S. Coast Guard’s (“USCG”) ballast water management requirements, and the horizon has gotten a bit clearer. There are now 16 ballast water management systems (“BWMS”) with USCG type-approval and 10 more in the pipeline. As such, many companies have kicked their compliance efforts into high gear, yet ballast water management still remains challenging, largely because the United States is not party to the International Maritime Organization’s (“IMO”) Ballast Water Management Convention and regulates ballast water unilaterally under the National Invasive Species Act and the Clean Water Act. And, a new regime is on the horizon, the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act of 2018, which is discussed further on page 21 of Mainbrace.

Some shipowners have struggled to manage compliance in an efficient and effective way with both IMO and U.S. requirements because the compliance dates and type-approval regimes differ, which sometimes has resulted in the need for compliance date extensions. The USCG’s extension policy has evolved as more type-approved systems become available, and the USCG just recently came out with a new policy via Maritime Commons. This new policy addresses and clarifies what the “next scheduled drydock” means, which triggers the compliance date.

The USCG’s new interpretation sets forth a more practical approach for owners to plan for compliance. In short, it ties the anticipated compliance date to the vessel’s statutory out-of-water survey date under SOLAS rather than triggering a new date as a result of drydock slips, installation of scrubbers, or emergency drydocks, which shortened the time to comply. This new policy is a welcome change that will lead to more certainty as it maintains the vessel’s anticipated compliance date. Also, for those owners who have endeavored to comply, but ran into some challenges getting equipment on time or experienced installation hiccups or emergency drydocks, extensions are still available, but on a much more limited basis than in the past. What is imperative is a good faith, detailed plan to come into compliance, generally within a year.

Finally, to avoid problems in the United States regarding operational issues, it is important to have a contingency plan in place, which is incorporated into each vessel’s ballast water management plan. Initially, an inoperable BWMS should be reported to the USCG Captain of the Port (“COTP”) well in advance of arriving, to allow time to work through the compliance options. In making a decision, the COTP will examine how well you have prepared for operations and what steps you have taken to develop a contingency plan, such as training, maintenance, spares, and efforts to repair. Answers to these questions, as well as the vessel/company’s compliance history, will guide the COTP’s decision in terms of what he/she may allow if a BWMS is inoperable.

Surviving the VIDA Loca

Jeanne M. Grasso

On December 4, 2018, the Frank LoBiondo Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2018 (the “Act”) was signed into law. Title IX of the Act is the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act of 2018 (“VIDA”). VIDA establishes a new framework for the regulation of discharges incidental to the normal operation of vessels, adding a new Section 312(p) to the Clean Water Act, Uniform National Standards for Discharges Incidental to Normal Operation of Vessels. VIDA is the culmination of years of discussion and debate within Congress and the maritime industry to bring consistency and certainty to the regulation of discharges from U.S. and foreign-flag vessels. How and whether this consistency and certainty will occur will be seen in the next several years.

Background

VIDA was born primarily out of a lawsuit relating to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (“EPA”) exemption of vessels from the Clean Water Act’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”) permitting program. By its terms, the NPDES permitting program, which regulates discharges of pollutants from point sources into the navigable waters of the United States (generally within three miles from shore), applies to discharges incidental to the normal operations of a vessel because a vessel is a point source when in navigable waters. Continue reading “Surviving the VIDA Loca”

MARPOL Compliance Alert: D.C. Court of Appeals Shuts the Door on APPS Relief

Gregory F. Linsin and Dana S. Merkel

Achieving sustained compliance with the requirements of Annex I of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (“MARPOL”) has been a challenge for the commercial maritime industry. In far too many situations, the detection of noncompliant activity by the U.S. Coast Guard has resulted in criminal prosecutions with devastating consequences for the vessel operator, owner, and crew, and the risks for the maritime industry are only increasing as the deadlines for Annex V compliance loom. This article explains a proven system for commercial vessel owners to minimize or even eliminate these substantial enforcement risks.

APPS Violations and Angelex

The Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (“APPS”), which implements MARPOL in the United States, authorizes the Coast Guard to detain any vessel if there is reasonable cause to believe the “ship, its owner, operator, or person in charge” may be liable for APPS violations. There have been many legal challenges over the years to the U.S. Coast Guard’s enforcement authority, including its jurisdiction over the vessels, bond amounts demanded, and non-monetary bond requirements, but all have failed. In December 2018, in the case of Angelex Ltd. v. United States, the D.C. Court of Appeals rejected the last untested avenue for potential relief for a vessel owner under APPS. Continue reading “MARPOL Compliance Alert: D.C. Court of Appeals Shuts the Door on APPS Relief”

New Developments in MARPOL Annex VI Compliance and Implementation

Jeanne M. Grasso, Jonathan K. Waldron, and Dana S. Merkel

 

The International Maritime Organization (“IMO”), in preparing for the global 0.5 percent fuel oil sulfur limit, recently adopted an amendment to MARPOL Annex VI to support consistent implementation and enforcement of the new requirement. At the same time, the IMO rejected a proposal for an “experience building phase” during the first months of implementation. This put to rest any rumors of a delay in implementation. Meanwhile, the U.S. Coast Guard published procedures by which owners may seek authorization to operate engines that do not meet MARPOL Annex VI NOx Tier III requirements for qualified vessels.

New Developments

The IMO adopted an amendment to support consistent implementation of the forthcoming 0.5 percent limit on sulfur in ships fuel oil on October 26, 2018, during the recent session of its Marine Environment Protection Committee (“MEPC 73”). This amendment, effective on March 1, 2020, prohibits the carriage of non-compliant fuel oil for use on the vessel unless the vessel is outfitted with an exhaust gas cleaning system, often referred to as a scrubber. The amendment does not alter the January 1, 2020 implementation date for the 0.5 percent sulfur limit.

Also related to MARPOL Annex VI, the U.S. Coast Guard published an enforcement Work Instruction formally addressing how the U.S. Coast Guard will enforce the Annex VI nitrogen oxides (“NOx”) Tier III standards within the North American and U.S. Caribbean Sea Emission Control Areas (“ECAs”). See Exercise of Enforcement Discretion with Regard to MARPOL Annex VI Regulation 13.5.1.2; CVC-WI-014(1) (October 17, 2018). Because engines meeting the NOx Tier III standards were largely unavailable after the Tier III standards took effect in 2016, the U.S. Coast Guard is allowing impacted vessels to instead be certified as meeting U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) Clean Air Act Tier 3 requirements pursuant to 40 C.F.R. Part 1042. Once individually recognized by the U.S. Coast Guard, such engines may be used indefinitely, even after NOx Tier III compliant engines become available.

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EPA’s 2013 Vessel General Permit to Be Continued into 2019

Jeanne M. Grasso, Jonathan K. Waldron, and Emma C. Jones

 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) recently published an update on its website notifying the industry that it would administratively continue the 2013 Vessel General Permit (“VGP”) until a new permit is issued sometime in 2019.

New Development

EPA’s 2013 VGP, which regulates incidental discharges from vessels, is set to expire on December 18, 2018. On October 10, 2018, EPA issued a statement on its website that the current 2013 VGP will not be reissued prior to the expiration date, but will be administratively continued and remain in effect until the new VGP is issued. EPA identifies its target timeframe for publishing a draft VGP, for public comment, as spring 2019. This will likely include a comment period of at least 30 days. This will be followed by a few months of EPA review before a new final VGP is published, likely during the summer. The link to the website can be found at epa.gov/npdes/vessels-vgp.

Practically, this means that vessels currently covered under the 2013 VGP will automatically be covered by the administrative continuance without further action, and new vessels with keels laid prior to December 18, 2018, must file a Notice of Intent (“NOI”) prior to December 18, 2018, to be covered by the 2013 VGP, otherwise they will not be covered until the 2018 VGP is finalized. If new vessels do not file an NOI before December 18, 2018, they will not be able to discharge in the United States, which basically prohibits them from operating in the United States.

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