OLYMPIA – A new bill passed by the Washington state legislature this month begins the phase-out of copper bottom paint on all recreational boats less than 65-feet in length. The legislation, which was signed into law by Governor Christine Gregoire on May 3, calls for a gradual elimination of the paint’s application by 2020. No recreational vessels over 65-feet in length will be impacted by the new law at any point. No vessel with copper bottom paint will be prevented from visiting Washington State.
The first step in the law calls for a study to be performed in 2017 examining the effectiveness of non-copper bottom paint to ensure enough alternatives to copper paint are available in the market. In 2018, no new recreational boats up to 65-feet in length may be sold in Washington state with copper paint applied. In 2020, no copper paint will be available at point-of-sale for recreational boats up to 65-feet in length, and copper paint may not be applied to recreational boats up to 65-feet in length.
Copper-based paints have long been effective in preventing marine growth on the bottom of vessels. But the metal can have a detrimental effect on wildlife, particularly salmon in the region, even at small doses. Washington boatyards have been dealing with ever increasing copper regulations since 1992 when the first boatyard permit was issued.
The bill was introduced during the recent legislative session as a proactive measure by the Northwest Marine Trade Association (NMTA), whose members include boatyards, marinas, boat and accessory dealers, manufacturers, and more, to address growing pressure on its member boatyards by local environmental groups. In 2009, five boatyards received intent-to-sue letters from one group, alleging each boatyard was in violation of the federal Clean Water Act. Each boatyard settled with the group, costing the yards more than a combined $77,000 in legal fees. Following the settlements, NMTA began taking steps to help its members reduce the level of copper and other water-borne pollutants flowing from their properties.
NMTA President George Harris said it was important to pass this bill and to limit the phase-out to boats under 65′ for several reasons.
“The boatyard permit issued by the state’s Department of Ecology applies to yards who work on boats 65-feet and smaller,” said Harris. “Eliminating the pollution at the source, through this copper phase-out, was the best path to protecting boatyards, and boating in the region.”
“Additionally, Washington state is a world leader in yacht building, with brands such as Westport, Delta, and Christensen headquartered here,” said Harris, “We know the majority of those yachts are shipped all over the world. If the copper phase-out extended to boats larger than 65-feet, it would put our yacht manufacturers at a competitive disadvantage.”
A bill calling for a similar phase-out of copper brake pads in motor vehicles was passed in Washington state in 2010.