A Guide to the Marine Protection, Research & Sanctuaries Act Requirements, Process, and Compliance

The Marine Protection, Research & Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA) plays a crucial role in safeguarding the United States' ocean waters and marine environments from the harmful effects of dumping. This comprehensive guide delves into the key aspects of the MPRSA, providing a clear understanding of its regulatory scope, compliance requirements, and enforcement mechanisms. By exploring the Act's history, prohibited substances, and permitting processes, readers will gain valuable insights into navigating the complexities of ocean dumping regulations. The guide also highlights the importance of monitoring, reporting, and recordkeeping obligations in ensuring transparency and accountability. Additionally, it offers practical guidance on compliance assistance programs and regulatory incentives that can help stakeholders adopt best practices and minimize their environmental impact. With a focus on the MPRSA's role in protecting marine ecosystems, human health, and economic activities, this guide serves as an essential resource for understanding and complying with this critical piece of environmental legislation.

GENERAL INFORMATION

Key Details of the Marine Protection, Research & Sanctuaries Act

Issuing Agency: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and United States Coast Guard (USCG)

Year Established: 1972

Last Amended: 2000

Statutory Authority: Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act

Primary Legal Reference: Title 16 of the United States Code, Chapter 32

What is the Marine Protection, Research & Sanctuaries Act?

The Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA), also known as the Ocean Dumping Act, is a federal law that regulates the dumping of materials into the ocean waters of the United States. The Act operates within the broader framework of U.S. environmental law and international treaties aimed at protecting marine environments from pollution and degradation.

The primary goals of the MPRSA are to prevent or strictly limit the dumping of materials that would adversely affect human health, welfare, or amenities, or the marine environment, ecological systems, or economic potentialities. The Act is administered and enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the United States Coast Guard (USCG).

Enacted in 1972, the MPRSA has undergone several amendments, most notably in 1988 with the Ocean Dumping Ban Act, which prohibited the dumping of industrial waste and sewage sludge into ocean waters. The Act achieves its goals by requiring permits for the transportation and dumping of materials into ocean waters, establishing marine sanctuaries, and supporting research on the effects of ocean dumping.

The MPRSA applies to all U.S. ocean waters, including the territorial sea, the contiguous zone, and the exclusive economic zone. It regulates the dumping activities of U.S. vessels and U.S. agencies, as well as foreign vessels in U.S. waters.

What does the Marine Protection, Research & Sanctuaries Act protect?

The Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act protects ocean waters and marine environments from the adverse effects of dumping. The Act specifically protects:

  1. Marine ecosystems and their biological communities
  2. Human health and welfare
  3. Marine-related economic activities, such as fishing and tourism
  4. Aesthetic and recreational values of marine environments

The MPRSA achieves this protection by prohibiting the dumping of certain materials, such as radiological, chemical, and biological warfare agents, high-level radioactive waste, and industrial waste. It also requires permits for the dumping of other materials, which are evaluated based on their potential environmental impacts. Additionally, the Act establishes marine sanctuaries to preserve areas of special ecological, historical, or aesthetic significance.

REGULATORY SCOPE & JURISDICTION

Regulated Activities, Entities & Prohibited Substances

The Marine Protection, Research & Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA) regulates the dumping of materials into the ocean, with a focus on protecting marine environments from pollution and degradation. The act applies to a wide range of industries and activities, including shipping, oil and gas exploration, and coastal development projects. Entities regulated under the MPRSA include federal agencies, private and individuals involved in the transportation and disposal of materials in the ocean.[^100]

Prohibited activities and substances under the MPRSA include:

  1. Dumping of radiological, chemical, and biological warfare agents, high-level radioactive waste, and medical waste.[^101]
  2. Ocean dumping of materials without a valid permit issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under Section 102 of the MPRSA.[^102]
  3. Dumping of materials that violate the permit conditions or the EPA's environmental impact criteria.[^103]

These prohibitions are intended to prevent the introduction of harmful substances into marine environments, protect human health and welfare, and preserve the ecological balance of ocean ecosystems. Violations of the MPRSA can result in civil and criminal penalties, as well as the revocation of permits and the imposition of restoration requirements.[^104]

Key Sections of the Marine Protection, Research & Sanctuaries Act

Section 102 - Ocean Dumping Permit Program

  • Purpose: Establishes a permit program for the transportation and dumping of materials into ocean waters, administered by the EPA.[^105]
  • Key requirements: Applicants must obtain a permit from the EPA before engaging in ocean dumping activities. The EPA evaluates permit applications based on the environmental impact of the proposed dumping, the need for the dumping, and alternative disposal options.
  • Significance and implications: Developers and other stakeholders involved in projects that involve the disposal of materials in the ocean must obtain a Section 102 permit and comply with its conditions to avoid violations and penalties under the MPRSA.
  • Compliance strategies and best practices: Engage with the EPA early in the project planning process to understand permit requirements and timelines. Consider alternative disposal methods and waste minimization strategies to reduce the need for ocean dumping.
  • Important processes and permits: The Section 102 permit application process involves submitting detailed information about the proposed dumping activity, including the materials to be dumped, the dumping site, and the potential environmental impacts. The EPA may require additional information or studies before making a permit decision.[^107]

Relationship to Other Regulations & Agencies

The MPRSA works in conjunction with other federal environmental laws, such as the Clean Water Act and the Coastal Zone Management Act, to protect marine environments and regulate activities that may impact them. The EPA is the primary agency responsible for implementing and enforcing the MPRSA, but it works closely with other federal agencies, such as the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), to monitor and enforce compliance with the act.

State and local agencies may also have a role in implementing the MPRSA, particularly in coastal areas where dumping activities may impact state waters or coastal resources. In some cases, states may have their own ocean dumping regulations that more stringent than federally required standards under the MPRSA.

Developers and other stakeholders involved in projects that may involve ocean dumping should consult with the EPA and relevant state and local agencies early in the planning process to ensure compliance with all applicable regulations and to obtain the necessary permits and approvals.

[^100]: "Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act." U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, https://www.epa.gov/laws-regulations/summary-marine-protection-research-and-sanctuaries-act.
[^101]: "Ocean Dumping: An Overview." U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, https://www.epa.gov/ocean-dumping/learn-about-ocean-dumping#main-content.
[^102]: Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act of 1972, 33 U.S.C. § 1412.
[^103]: 40 C.F.R. § 227.3 - Materials which may not be disposed of in the ocean.
[^104]: Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act of 1972, 33 U.S.C. § 1415 - Penalties.
[^105]: Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act of 1972, 33 U.S.C. § 1412 - Environmental Protection Agency permits. [^107]: 40 C.F.R. § 221.1 - Applications for permits.

COMPLIANCE REQUIREMENTS & STANDARDS

Regulatory Standards & Limitations

The Marine Protection, Research & Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA) and its implementing regulations establish various standards and limitations to protect marine environments from pollution caused by dumping of materials into ocean waters. The Act prohibits the transportation of material from the United States for the purpose of ocean dumping without a permit issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under MPRSA §103.1 The EPA is responsible for developing criteria for reviewing and evaluating permit applications, as well as setting limitations on the types and quantities of materials that may be disposed of in the ocean.2

The EPA's Ocean Dumping Regulations at 40 CFR Part 227 establish criteria for evaluating permit applications, which include:

  1. The need for the proposed dumping.
  2. The effect of the proposed dumping on human health and welfare, including economic, esthetic, and recreational values.
  3. The effect of the proposed dumping on fisheries resources, plankton, fish, shellfish, wildlife, shore lines and beaches.
  4. The effect of the proposed dumping on marine ecosystems, particularly with respect to:
    • The transfer, concentration, and dispersion of such material and its byproducts through biological, physical, and chemical processes.
    • Potential changes in marine ecosystem diversity, productivity, and stability.
    • Species and community population dynamics.3

The EPA also establishes site selection criteria for ocean dumping, which aim to minimize the adverse impacts of dumping on the marine environment.4 Permits issued under MPRSA specify the type and amount of material authorized for dumping, the location of the disposal site, and any special provisions for monitoring the effects of the disposal on the marine environment.5

Monitoring, Reporting & Recordkeeping Obligations

Under the MPRSA, permittees are required to comply with monitoring, reporting, and recordkeeping requirements to ensure that ocean dumping activities are conducted in accordance with permit conditions and regulatory standards. These obligations help the EPA and other relevant agencies assess the impacts of dumping on the marine environment and ensure compliance with the Act.

Monitoring Requirements: Permittees must conduct monitoring programs to evaluate the impact of dumping on the marine environment, as specified in their permit conditions. This may include:

  • Sampling and analysis of the material to be dumped to determine its physical, chemical, and biological characteristics.
  • Monitoring of the disposal site to assess the extent and effects of the dumping on the marine environment, including water quality, sediment composition, and marine life.6

Reporting Requirements: Permittees must submit regular reports to the EPA, detailing the results of their monitoring programs and any other information required by their permit conditions. These reports typically include:

  • The type and quantity of material dumped.
  • The date, time, and location of each dumping event.
  • The results of any required monitoring activities.
  • Any unusual events or observations during dumping operations.7

Reports are generally submitted on a quarterly or annual basis, depending on the specific permit conditions.

Recordkeeping Requirements: Permittees must maintain records of all monitoring and reporting activities, as well as any other information required by their permit conditions. These records must be retained for a specified period, typically a minimum of three years, and made available for inspection by the EPA upon request.8

Compliance with these monitoring, reporting, and recordkeeping obligations is essential for ensuring transparency and accountability in ocean dumping activities, and for enabling the EPA to effectively enforce the provisions of the MPRSA.

Enforcement Actions & Penalties

The EPA is responsible for enforcing the provisions of the MPRSA and its implementing regulations. The agency conducts inspections and audits to monitor compliance with permit conditions and regulatory standards.

Inspection and Audit Procedures: The EPA may conduct several types of inspections to ensure compliance with the MPRSA:

  1. Routine Inspections: Regularly scheduled inspections of permitted facilities and disposal sites to assess compliance with permit conditions and regulatory standards.

  2. Targeted Inspections: Focused inspections of facilities or disposal sites based on specific concerns or information, such as citizen complaints or data from monitoring reports.

  3. Compliance Evaluation Inspections (CEIs): Comprehensive inspections that evaluate all aspects of a facility's compliance with the MPRSA, including record reviews, interviews with personnel, and site visits.

The frequency of inspections varies depending on the type of facility, its compliance history, and the potential risk to the marine environment. During inspections, regulated entities are required to provide access to records, facilities, and personnel, and to cooperate with EPA inspectors.9

Penalties for Violations: Violations of the MPRSA can result in various types of penalties, depending on the nature and severity of the violation. The table below summarizes the potential penalties:

Type of PenaltyDescriptionExamples of ViolationsPenalty Amount
Administrative PenaltiesFines or orders issued by the EPA without court action- Failure to comply with permit conditions- Failure to conduct required monitoring or reportingUp to $50,000 per violation
Civil PenaltiesFines imposed through court action in a civil lawsuit- Knowingly violating permit conditions or regulations- Ocean dumping without a permitUp to $50,000 per violation, per day
Criminal PenaltiesFines and/or imprisonment imposed through court action in a criminal prosecution- Willful violations of the MPRSA- Knowingly making false statements in reports or permit applications- Fines up to $250,000 per violation- Imprisonment up to 5 years

The severity of the penalty is influenced by factors such as the gravity of the violation, the extent of harm to the marine environment, the compliance history of the violator, and the economic benefit derived from the violation.10

Compliance Assistance & Regulatory Incentives

The EPA and other agencies offer various programs, resources, and incentives to help entities understand and comply with the requirements of the MPRSA.

Technical Assistance and Guidance:

  • The EPA provides guidance documents, such as the "Ocean Dumping Regulations and Criteria" manual, which explains the requirements of the MPRSA and its implementing regulations in detail.
  • The EPA's Ocean Dumping Management Program offers technical assistance to help entities understand the permitting process and comply with permit conditions.11

Training and Workshops:

  • The EPA conducts workshops and webinars on ocean dumping regulations and best management practices for compliance. These events are often targeted at specific industries or regions.
  • Industry groups and professional associations may also offer training and workshops on MPRSA compliance and environmental best practices.

Financial Incentives:

  • The EPA's Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) provides low-interest loans to help entities finance projects that reduce ocean dumping and improve water quality, such as the development of alternative disposal methods or the implementation of best management practices.12
  • Some states may offer tax credits or other financial incentives for the adoption of cleaner technologies or practices that go beyond the minimum regulatory requirements of the MPRSA.

Voluntary Partnership Programs:

  • The EPA's National Environmental Performance Track was a voluntary partnership program that provided benefits, such as regulatory flexibility and public recognition, to facilities that demonstrated superior environmental performance. While this program has been discontinued, similar state or regional programs may still be available.

For more information on compliance assistance and incentive programs related to the MPRSA, entities should contact the EPA's Ocean Dumping Management Program or their state environmental agency.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Regulatory History & Upcoming Changes

The Marine Protection, Research & Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA), also known as the Ocean Dumping Act, was enacted in 1972 to regulate the dumping of materials into the ocean 13. The Act was a response to growing concerns about the environmental impact of ocean dumping, particularly the disposal of industrial waste and sewage sludge 14.

Key amendments to the MPRSA include:

  1. The 1988 Ocean Dumping Ban Act, which prohibited the dumping of sewage sludge and industrial waste into the ocean 15.
  2. The 1992 amendments, which strengthened the Act's enforcement provisions and increased penalties for violations 16.

In recent years, there have been no significant regulatory changes or pending legislation related to the MPRSA. However, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to work with other federal agencies, such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to ensure effective implementation and enforcement of the Act 17.

To stay informed about any potential future changes to the MPRSA, interested parties should:

  • Monitor the Federal Register for proposed rules and regulatory updates 18.
  • Engage with relevant stakeholders, such as industry associations and environmental organizations, to stay informed about ongoing discussions and initiatives related to ocean dumping and marine protection 19.

Additional Resources

  1. Full text of the Marine Protection, Research & Sanctuaries Act: https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/STATUTE-86/pdf/STATUTE-86-Pg1052.pdf 20

  2. EPA's Ocean Dumping Management Program: https://www.epa.gov/ocean-dumping 21

  3. "Ocean Dumping Act: A Summary of the Law" by the Congressional Research Service: https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RS20028.pdf 22

REFERENCES

  1. Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act, 33 U.S.C. §1411.

  2. Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act, 33 U.S.C. §1412(a).

  3. 40 CFR §227.1 - Applicability.

  4. 40 CFR §228 - Criteria for the Management of Disposal Sites for Ocean Dumping.

  5. Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act, 33 U.S.C. §1412(a).

  6. 40 CFR §220.4(d) - Permit conditions.

  7. 40 CFR §224.2 - Reporting requirements.

  8. 40 CFR §224.1 - Records, retention.

  9. Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act, 33 U.S.C. §1417(c).

  10. 40 CFR §224.4 - Determination of penalty amounts.

  11. U.S. EPA. Ocean Dumping Management Program. https://www.epa.gov/ocean-dumping

  12. U.S. EPA. Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF). https://www.epa.gov/cwsrf

  13. Marine Protection, Research & Sanctuaries Act, 33 U.S.C. §§ 1401-1445 (1972).

  14. "Ocean Dumping Act: A Summary of the Law," Congressional Research Service, October 30, 2018, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RS20028.pdf

  15. Ocean Dumping Ban Act of 1988, Pub. L. No. 100-688, 102 Stat. 4139 (1988).

  16. Oceans Act of 1992, Pub. L. No. 102-587, 106 Stat. 5039 (1992).

  17. "Ocean Dumping Management Program," Environmental Protection Agency, https://www.epa.gov/ocean-dumping

  18. "Federal Register," National Archives, https://www.federalregister.gov/

  19. "Ocean Dumping," Environmental Protection Agency, https://www.epa.gov/ocean-dumping/learn-about-ocean-dumping

  20. Marine Protection, Research & Sanctuaries Act, Pub. L. No. 92-532, 86 Stat. 1052 (1972), https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/STATUTE-86/pdf/STATUTE-86-Pg1052.pdf

  21. "Ocean Dumping Management Program," Environmental Protection Agency, https://www.epa.gov/ocean-dumping

  22. "Ocean Dumping Act: A Summary of the Law," Congressional Research Service, October 30, 2018, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RS20028.pdf

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A Note to Our Readers: We hope this guide is a valuable resource in helping you better understand the MPRSA. However, it's not a substitute for professional advice and doesn't cover every scenario. Always consult with regulatory bodies and professionals for the most current advice and project-specific guidance.