The Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA) has two basic aims: to regulate intentional ocean disposal of materials, and to authorize related research. Permit and enforcement provisions of the law are often referred to as the Ocean Dumping Act. The basic provisions of the act have remained virtually unchanged since 1972, when it was enacted to establish a comprehensive waste management system to regulate disposal or dumping of all materials into marine waters that are within U.S. jurisdiction, although a number of new authorities have been added. This report presents a summary of the law.
Four federal agencies have responsibilities under the Ocean Dumping Act: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Coast Guard. EPA has primary authority for regulating ocean disposal of all substances except dredged spoils, which are under the authority of the Corps of Engineers. NOAA is responsible for long-range research on the effects of human- induced changes to the marine environment, while EPA is authorized to carry out research and demonstration activities related to phasing out sewage sludge and industrial waste dumping. The Coast Guard is charged with maintaining surveillance of ocean dumping.
Title I of the MPRSA prohibits all ocean dumping, except that allowed by permits, in any ocean waters under U.S. jurisdiction, by any U.S. vessel, or by any vessel sailing from a U.S. port. Certain materials, such as high-level radioactive waste, chemical and biological warfare agents, medical waste, sewage sludge, and industrial waste, may not be dumped in the ocean. Permits for dumping of other materials, except dredge spoils, can be issued by the EPA after notice and opportunity for public hearings where the Administrator determines that such dumping will not unreasonably degrade or endanger human health, welfare, the marine environment, ecological systems, or economic potentialities. Permits specify the type of material to be disposed, the amount to be transported for dumping, the location of the dumpsite, the length of time the permit is valid, and special provisions for surveillance. The law regulates ocean dumping within the area extending 12 nautical miles seaward from the U.S. baseline and regulates transport of material by U.S.-flagged vessels for dumping into ocean waters. EPA designates sites for ocean dumping and specifies in each permit where the material is to be disposed.
Title II of the MPRSA authorizes two types of research: general research on ocean resources, under the jurisdiction of NOAA; and EPA research related to phasing out ocean disposal activities. NOAA is directed to carry out a comprehensive, long-term research program on the effects not only of ocean dumping, but also of pollution, overfishing, and other human-induced changes on the marine ecosystem. EPA’s research role includes “research, investigations, experiments, training, demonstrations, surveys, and studies” to minimize or end the dumping of sewage sludge and industrial wastes, along with research on alternatives to ocean disposal. (Title III, concerning marine sanctuaries, is not discussed in this report.)
Title IV of the MPRSA established nine regional marine research boards for the purpose of developing comprehensive marine research plans, considering water quality and ecosystem conditions and research and monitoring priorities and objectives in each region.
Title V of the MPRSA established a national coastal water quality monitoring program. It directs EPA and NOAA jointly to implement a long-term program to collect and analyze scientific data on the environmental quality of coastal ecosystems, including ambient water quality, health and quality of living resources, sources of environmental degradation, and data on trends.
Enjoy - and don't dump!
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