Over 1 million residents call Hawaii home and support a $91 billion economy in industries ranging from tourism to finance and manufacturing to the arts.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a large portion of these jobs and our state’s economy comes from the ocean that surrounds us. As our country’s only island-state, Hawaii has a special relationship with our seas and maritime industry.

Hawaii’s ocean economy accounts for 16 percent of all jobs in our state and $18 billion annually in revenue. The Hawaii maritime industry supports thousands of jobs, ensuring that goods, visitors and commerce flow to and from our islands.

Each of these maritime jobs depends on the steady flow of goods transported via maritime shipping to our state. While seemingly simple, shipping goods and commodities is heavily regulated by both federal and state agencies.

For Hawaii residents, this is good. Strong and clear regulations help to ensure that maritime traffic to our islands is secure, sustained and safe for both people and the maritime environment that surrounds us.

Honolulu Harbor with Matson Container ship and cranes.

Lifeline: Honolulu Harbor with Matson Container ship and cranes.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

However, in many instances, a patchwork of federal, state and local regulations around ballast water discharge are preventing maritime vessel owners from investing in the newest and safest technologies and modernizing their businesses because they cannot be sure that their investment will continue to satisfy regulations. The confusion hampers growth and stops these businesses from investing in the latest technology that will make shipping simpler, cleaner and safer.

Currently, Congress is considering a bill to make these regulations simpler and require maritime businesses meet the highest ballast water discharge standards with clear regulation and reliable enforcement.

Vessel Incidental Discharge Act

The bill, called “VIDA” or the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act, targets the discharge of ballast water from boats. The act adopts the highest standard of environmental protection issued by the EPA and the National Academy of Sciences, helping to ensure that ballast water is properly treated and responsibly discharged at every port in Hawaii and across all the United States.

The bill creates a single standard that can be raised as technology and available data improves, streamlining processes for businesses to ensure that they can comply with the needed regulations, and protecting our state’s valuable ocean resources.

Furthermore, VIDA empowers the EPA and Coast Guard to work together to enforce these standards, letting our nation’s scientists and maritime law enforcement collaborate to protect and evaluate our waterways. This process will allow these agencies to make best use of existing resources while issuing firm guidance to all vessels on U.S. waterways so that they can properly treat and dispose of their ballast water.

Hawaii is home to many seafaring people. The ocean is essential to our way of life and to our state’s economy, and we should support every effort to safeguard it. VIDA is the highest standard that we can employ to help protect our state’s seas and the jobs it supports. In fact, it is the same high standard that the U.S. armed forces already operate under at bases around Hawaii like Pearl Harbor. It’s already working for our military, why not let it work for our maritime industry?

VIDA is the right policy for Hawaii and for our country, which is why it has broad, bipartisan support in the U.S. Senate, including from Hawaii’s Sen. Brian Schatz. Now we’re looking to him to continue his leadership by supporting VIDA and helping ensure it makes its way through Congress and is signed into law. By doing so, Senator Schatz will be helping protect our state’s waters and maritime economy.

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