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Todd D. Lochner, Esq.

Lochner Law Firm, P.C.
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Maryland's Proposed Regulations on Volatile Organic Compounds Emissions

The State of Maryland’s Department of the Environment (MDE) has proposed new regulations governing the emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from pleasure craft coating operations. VOCs, for the purposes of this regulation, are chemicals that are commonly found in many products used in boat construction and maintenance, such as bottom paints and gelcoats. The proposed regulations (COMAR §§ will affect many marinas and private boat owners throughout the state, as they will make some commonly-used paints and coatings obsolete, and impose greater liability upon the yards where coating operations are permitted.

Maryland is following a recent trend of states adopting stricter regulation of VOC emissions. The EPA initially promulgates the emission standards, which lowers the amount of VOCs that are permitted in various coatings. States can then adopt more stringent standards, as Maryland is endeavoring to do. Four categories of coatings will be affected by the proposed regulations: Finish Primer/Surfacer; Antifouling Sealer/Tiecoat; Other Substrate Antifoulant; and Extreme High Gloss.

The proposed regulations affect pleasure craft and fiberglass boat coating operations at premises with actual VOC emissions of more than 15 pounds per day from coating operations (such as bottom painting or gelcoat spraying). Once a premises has exceeded the 15 pounds per day threshold, only products that satisfy the new, lower limits can be used. These thresholds are very low and will affect almost every marina that permits work to be done on vessels while they are on the hard. As an example, the new proposed limits for antifoulant coatings are 3.3 pounds of VOCs per gallon. Many bottom paints have VOC pounds per gallon ratios well in excess of 4 pounds of VOCs per gallon. After the proposed regulations take effect, many common products will no longer be permissible, and if they are used, the marina could be subject to liability.

There are some questions that are raised by the language of the proposed regulations. “Premises” is never clearly defined. Does the entire marina/boatyard constitute a “premises,” or is the definition limited to just the actual painting and/or spraying operation itself? If a boatyard allows subcontractors to paint and/or spray, must the yard aggregate their collective emissions? A business runs the risk of coming to a different interpretation than the MDE, which could result in fines or other liability.

These rules will likely result in additional record-keeping requirements for small businesses. Because the threshold for applicability has been lowered, more business will be required to maintain statistics concerning the monthly total volume of VOCs used, and to make those records available for inspection by the MDE.

Another potential issue concerns the ability of boat owners to perform work on their own vessels while they are stored on the hard. Smaller marinas, that perform only a limited amount of work, may exclude owners from working on their own vessels so as not to rise above the VOC emissions threshold. Because averages are calculated monthly, a yard that performs only limited painting and coating operations may simply prohibit owners from working on their own vessels to “save” the VOC emissions for their own workers. Alternatively, yards may just prohibit boat owners from using the higher VOC paint.

These issues will fortunately likely be short term, as opposed to long term problems. Coatings, particularly antifoulants, which meet the proposed standards, do exist. Manufacturers are likely to shift towards making and marketing products that satisfy these stricter standards, especially as more states move towards more stringent regulations. Until this happens, however, boat owners and marinas alike will have one more regulatory hoop to jump through.

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