Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act
Purpose and Organization
The Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA) regulates the ocean dumping of waste, provides for a research program on ocean dumping, and provides for the designation and regulation of marine sanctuaries. Often known as the Ocean Dumping Act, the act regulates the ocean dumping of all material beyond the territorial limit (three miles from shore) and prevents or strictly limits dumping material that "would adversely affect human health, welfare, or amenities, or the marine environment, ecological systems, or economic potentialities."
Material includes, but is not limited to dredged material; solid waste; incinerator residue; garbage; sewage; sewage sludge; munitions; chemical and biological warfare agents; radioactive materials; chemicals; biological and laboratory waste; wrecked or discarded equipment; rocks; sand; excavation debris; and industrial, municipal, agricultural, and other waste. The term does not include sewage from vessels or oil, unless the oil is transported via a vessel or aircraft for the purpose of dumping. Disposal by means of a pipe, regardless of how far at sea the discharge occurs, is regulated by the Clean Water Act, through the NPDES permit process.
Some of the waste material as defined above may be transported to and dumped into the ocean by DOE under conditions stipulated in a permit issued by the EPA or the Corps of Engineers (COE or the Corps), depending upon the type of waste involved. Ocean dumping, however, is only possible if no other reasonable alternatives, such as landfilling, are available.
Section 102 of MPRSA authorizes EPA to issue ocean dumping permits for the transport to and disposal of materials into the oceans, excluding wastes regulated by COE (primarily dredged spoils). Other wastes categorically excluded from EPA permitting because of their hazardous nature are "radiological, chemical, and biological warfare agents and high- level radioactive waste. . . ."
Section 102 also directs the EPA Administrator to set criteria for the review of ocean dumping permits. To protect critical ocean areas, EPA may designate the sites and time periods at which ocean disposal can occur. Federal agencies, including DOE, must obtain EPA permits to conduct ocean dumping under MPRSA. Because the status of EPA dump sites changes from time to time, DOE should contact EPA when it plans to apply for a permit to dump at a particular site. Some EPA sites have not been used recently, while others are in the process of redesignation to accept additional kinds of waste.
MPRSA Section 103 authorizes the Corps to issue permits for the ocean disposal of dredged material (i.e., material excavated from navigable U.S. waters). Section 103(e) gives the Secretary of the Army the option of issuing regulations instead of permits for material dredged from federal projects, although the criteria for the disposal decision would be much the same.
Section 103 is of interest to DOE because of the department's involvement in conversion of utility power plants to burn coal under the Fuel Use Act (FUA). These actions frequently entail dredging nearby rivers and channels to enable coal barges to readily access power plants. Thus, DOE must plan for proper disposal of the dredged material. DOE handles the permitting for power plants that switch to coal fuel and, thus, must assure that the plants comply with MPRSA provisions for dredge disposal, if disposal will occur in ocean waters outside the U.S. territorial limit.
Section 104 describes the contents of permits issued under Title I of MPRSA and provides for periodic permit review and revision or revocation. Either the EPA Administrator or the Secretary of the Army may revoke a permit if dumping of waste materials does not consistently follow the original permit evaluation factors involving, for example, the extent of marine environmental impact.
States may not independently adopt regulations relating to activities covered by Title I of MPRSA (Section 106). However, states may propose ocean dumping criteria in addition to those of EPA. If the EPA Administrator does not find the new criteria to be inconsistent with the act, the Administrator may then adopt those criteria and issue regulations to implement them. Only in this way can state-level criteria be brought to bear upon federal agency actions affected by Title I of MPRSA.
Title III of MPRSA authorizes the Secretary of Commerce to designate certain areas as National Marine Sanctuaries after consulting with the heads of interested federal agencies and state and local governments, as appropriate. Sanctuaries may be designated anywhere in the marine environment, which Title III defines as:
. . .those areas of coastal and ocean waters, the Great Lakes and their connecting waters, and submerged lands over which the United States exercises jurisdiction, consistent with international law. . . .
Certain national security activities may continue in or near designated marine sanctuaries, an aspect of the act that may be relevant to DOE. In the past existing U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) activity at some sanctuary sites has been allowed to continue, with provisions for consultation between NOAA and DOD before additional activities begin.
Regulations implementing the MPRSA statute may be found in Titles 15, 33, and 40 of the CFR.