New Coast Guard APC Rule Adds Admin Burden

The United States Coast Guard is revamping the Alternative Planning Criteria National Guidelines and has extended the public comment period to April 10, 2017. The draft changes seek to clarify alternative planning criteria (APC) submissions and processes pursuant to 33 CFR 155.1065 and 155.5067, which deal with oil or hazardous material pollution prevention regulations for vessels. The changes affect how vessel owners and operators develop and submit APC requests and are intended to help USCG personnel with consistency in their reviews of APC requests.

One of the changes of note in the draft update to the APC guidelines includes this from Section 10(b)(1):

Vessel Fleets.
An APC may cover a single vessel or a fleet of vessels. The request must clearly state the size of the fleet, vessel type(s), and corresponding VRP [vessel response plan] control number(s).

As the Alaska Maritime Prevention and Response Network says in its comments to the Coast Guard: “This changes the parameters of the APC to be vessel specific. APCs [are] a means of compliance to meet GSA [geographic-specific appendix] and are addendums to the VRP. It is the VRP that provides the specific vessel or fleet detail.”

“Currently, an APC is an addendum to a VRP to demonstrate compliance with 33 CFR 155 for specific GSAs,” the Alaska Maritime Prevention and Response Network continues. “This requirement appears to establish APCs as a standalone document, contrary to the regulations and establishing redundant requirements that are currently contained within a vessel’s VRP.”

In its comments, the American Waterways Organization spotlighted the same, costly requirement in the draft, citing it as an administrative burden due to its scope. The AWO states its concern thusly:

Given the hundreds of vessels covered by the AWO APC and the dynamism of the fleet, this is a very significant information submission effort, and one that AWO does not believe is justified.

Both organizations also express concerns that the draft USCG regulatory update adds submission burdens to APC requests in Section 10(b)(3), which states:

Tank and Nontank Vessels.
Based on different NPC [national planning criteria] requirements, tank vessel and nontank vessel APCs must be submitted separately, or if in the same request package, clearly separated into separate appendices, and in accordance with Enclosures (1) and (2).

The AWO states the objection to the administrative burden most forcefully: “…AWO does not believe that this requirement is justified for the AWO APC, given that the NPC requirements for tank and non-tank vessels do not differ.”

The Alaska Maritime Prevention and Response Network (AK-MPRN) and the AWO additionally cite Section 10(b)(3), which instructs vessel owners and operators or APC administrators (a new and yet undefined term from the Coast Guard, according to the AK-MPRN) to “submit an APC request no less than 90 days before a vessel intends to operate under the proposed APC. (emphasis added)” Currently, APC requests are submitted and approved on a particular geographic-specific area, not by single vessel owner/operator vessel response plan per GSA. The draft would seemingly prohibit submissions where multiple VO/Os participate in a unified GSA APC covered program.

There are several redundant requirements in the draft guidelines that could create unnecessary costs, some running many millions of dollars. Beyond the administrative burdens the new regulations propose, there are costs associated with other mandates within the draft update. Those costs are not considered by the Coast Guard. They include the money it would take to build “infrastructure to support the large number of vessels needed to support and conduct response operations, the response personnel needed to conduct response operations, and the logistical resources needed to support these operations…” in remote areas, according to the AK-MPRN.

Vessel owners and operators, both tank and non-tank, may wish to review the guidelines and participate in the comment process to prevent increased regulatory burdens and a growing exposure to violations in pollution response plans. You can also follow comments as they are submitted, even if you don’t provide commentary. If you want to receive email alerts when comments are posted, you can do so online or by contacting the person in charge of the public comment process. Information on commenting or receiving notifications on other stakeholders’ submissions is available here.