EPA Criticized for Marine Lubrication Proposal

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EPA Criticized for Marine Lubrication Proposal
Workers prepare a propeller and stern tube for installation on a ship. © Alexey Seafarer / stock.adobe.com

Several companies, including two from the lubricants industry, recently criticized a proposal by the United States Environmental Protection Agency to remove references to test methods from a mandate for marine vessels to use environmentally acceptable lubricants.

The companies complained that these changes would reduce the likelihood of vessel operators using solutions that avoid harming marine life.

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On Oct. 26 EPA published in the Federal Register proposed changes to its Vessel Incidental Discharge National Standards of Performance, or VIDA. The standard establishes a framework for regulation of discharges incidental to normal operation of a vessel under a new Clean Water Act. The act applies to commercial vessels greater than 79 feet in length and other non-recreational, non-military vessels, such as research and emergency rescue vessels. It applies to ballast water only from small vessels less than 79 feet in length and fishing vessels of all sizes.

Novvi LLC and RSC Bio Solutions each submitted comments about the proposed rule, expressing concerns with removal of references to test methods from the definitions of biodegradable, minimally toxic and non-bio accumulative. Novvi – which produces base oils from renewable resources – also expressed concerns about the wording of a statement in the proposed VIDA concerning hydrocarbon.

Novvi submitted comments in a letter dated Nov. 23, expressing concerns with two sections that discuss environmentally acceptable lubricants.

“First, we are surprised to see that the test methods have been removed from the definitions of biodegradable, minimally toxic, and non-bio accumulative,” the company stated. “The test methods are critical to precisely define these terms. Without the proper test methods listed in VGP2013, anyone can claim to meet these requirements without proof of performance. We feel that it would be difficult for the agency to deliver against the regulatory intent of the proposed rules without unambiguous references to these methods.” The company asked for the reinstatement of several test methods, detailing them in their comments.

RSC Bio Solutions expressed similar reservations in an Oct. 23 letter. “We are confused that reference[s] to test methods have been removed and are unsure how to document compliance of our products with the proposed rule,” the company stated. “What are the minimum criteria for meeting these three requirements, and by what test methods are they determined? Test methods and unambiguous criteria for passing those tests must be included in the proposed rule to provide EAL suppliers such as RSC Bio Solutions and our customers the information they need to comply with the new rule.”

Novvi also objected to statements that hydrocarbon chains contain strong hydrogen bonds that keep them from breaking down in water and that cause them to accumulate in tissues of aquatic organisms to “cause toxic effects.”

The company asserted, “This is very over-simplified and at points, incorrect chemistry. Not all hydrocarbons have toxic effects; Novvi has proven that our renewable saturated hydrocarbon base oils meet all the EAL requirements of VGP2013/VIDA. Our renewable saturated hydrocarbon base oils are considered not bio-accumulative using the widely-accepted regulatory definition of as such, as noted above.

“In addition, natural oils and ester base oils all contain the same long hydrocarbon chains needed in a base oil to maintain oil solubility and lubricity.” Novvi requested removal of the section from the VIDA, “since the chemistry is oversimplified and, in many cases, just wrong.”

Canadian bearings and seals maker Thordon Bearings said in a press release Monday that it submitted a statement to the EPA on Nov. 20, in which the company “strongly questions the removal of some text” in the agency’s proposed amendments, asserting that such omissions will cause existing zero-pollution solutions will be overlooked.

The EPA in its current 2013 iteration of the Vessel General Permit recommends that operators of all new vessels operators endeavor to use seawater-based systems for their stern tube lubrication to prevent the discharge of oil from such interfaces to the marine environment, according to the company. According to Thordon Bearings, the revised VIDA makes no mention of seawater as an environmentally acceptable lubricant.

“It mentions composite bearings but does not state that the composite bearings must be lubricated by seawater to eliminate all risk of pollution,” Craig Carter, Thordon Bearings’ director of marketing and customer service, said in the press release.

The company in its letter called for a 60-day extension to the period in which stakeholders can comment on the proposals. EPA’s website indicated the comment period closed on Nov. 25.

“The omission of this text from the VIDA proposal minimizes the fact that a current in-use and proven zero-pollution solution that has no impact on our seas and oceans is likely to be overlooked by vessel operators if it does not appear in the new VIDA,” the company wrote. “We firmly believe that the recommendation from the U.S. EPA stated in the VGP 2013, to use the only lubricant that has no impact on the environment and is currently in use in thousands of vessels, is an incredibly powerful statement to eliminate stern tube oil pollution from ships navigating U.S. waters.”

According to EPA’s website, existing vessel discharge requirements established through EPA 2013 Vessel General Permit and the U.S. Coast Guard ballast water regulations – and any applicable state and local government requirements – will continue to apply until EPA publishes final standards, and the Coast Guard publishes corresponding implementing regulations. Those are anticipated in 2022.

The submitted comments on the ruling may be viewed at the Regulations.gov website.

For more information on the Vessel Incidental Discharge National Standards of Performance, visit the EPA website.