[Federal Register Volume 82, Number 198 (Monday, October 16, 2017)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 47975-47981]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2017-22333]


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DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY

Coast Guard

33 CFR Part 155

[Docket No. USCG-2016-0437]


Update to Alternative Planning Criteria National Guidelines

AGENCY: Coast Guard, Department of Homeland Security.

ACTION: National guidelines; update.

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SUMMARY: The Coast Guard announces the availability of the updated 
alternative planning criteria national guidelines for vessel response 
plans (VRPs). These national guidelines provide the maritime industry 
with updated information on developing and submitting alternative 
planning criteria (alternatives). Furthermore, they facilitate 
consistency in the Coast Guard's review of proposed alternatives.

DATES: The updated alternative planning criteria national guidelines 
are available on October 16, 2017. The Coast Guard recommends that new 
alternatives and alternatives submitted for renewal follow the updated 
alternative planning criteria national guidelines. Requests for 
extension of currently accepted alternatives may be approved for a 
period not to exceed six months from the date of expiration.

ADDRESSES: MER Policy Letter 01-17: Alternative Planning Criteria 
National Guidelines for Vessel Response Plans is available in our 
online docket at http://www.regulations.gov, and on https://homeport.uscg.mil under Environmental > Vessel Response Plan Program. 
Comments and material received from the public, as well as documents 
mentioned in this notice of availability, are in our online docket at 
http://www.regulations.gov and can be viewed by following that Web 
site's instructions.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: For further information about this

[[Page 47976]]

document, call or email CDR Kevin Boyd, U.S. Coast Guard, Office of 
Marine Environmental Response, telephone 202-372-1226; email 
[email protected].

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

Table of Contents

I. Abbreviations
II. Background
III. Response to Comments

I. Abbreviations

CFR Code of Federal Regulations
CG-543 U.S. Coast Guard Office of Commercial Vessel Compliance
COTP Captain of the Port
D17 U.S. Coast Guard District 17 in Alaska
MSIB Marine Safety Information Bulletin
NPC National Planning Criteria
VRP Vessel Response Plan
U.S. United States

II. Background

    The alternative planning criteria national guidelines provide the 
maritime industry with guidance on developing and submitting 
alternatives in accordance with the regulations. Tank and nontank 
vessels meeting the applicability requirements in 33 CFR 155.1015 and 
155.5015 must submit vessel response plans (VRPs). If a vessel owner or 
operator believes the national planning criteria (NPC) provided in 33 
CFR part 155 are inappropriate for the areas in which the vessel 
intends to operate, the vessel owner or operator can submit an 
alternative(s) pursuant to 33 CFR 155.1065(f) and 155.5067. In August 
2009, the U.S. Coast Guard (Coast Guard) published CG-543 Policy Letter 
09-02, ``Industry Guidelines for Requesting Alternate Planning Criteria 
Approval, One Time Waivers and Interim Operating Authorization.'' The 
purpose of CG-543 Policy Letter 09-02, was to provide guidance to the 
maritime industry in proposing an alternative for tank vessel response 
plans pursuant to 33 CFR 155.1065(f). In September 2013, the Coast 
Guard published a final rule for nontank vessel regulations in 33 CFR 
part 155, subpart J (78 FR 60100). This final rule made the NPC in 33 
CFR part 155 applicable to thousands of additional vessels across the 
U.S., including geographic areas with limited commercially available 
response resources. In 2015, D17 published a draft Marine Safety 
Information Bulletin (MSIB) that provided guidance for proposed 
alternative submissions and expectations within Alaskan waters, with a 
focus on nontank vessel traffic. Given the multitude of comments 
concerning alternative planning criteria, especially from various 
sectors of the maritime industry on the draft D17 MSIB, the Coast Guard 
determined it would be best to update the alternative planning criteria 
national guidelines to provide a foundation inclusive of both tank and 
nontank vessel communities and that applied nationally. Between 2016 
and 2017, the Coast Guard drafted an update to the alternative planning 
criteria national guidelines, and made this available for public 
comment.

III. Response to Comments

    On May 27, 2016, the Coast Guard published a notice announcing the 
availability of a draft update to the alternative planning criteria 
national guidelines in the Federal Register (81 FR 33685). On August 
16, 2016, the Coast Guard published in the Federal Register a notice 
announcing a public meeting and an extension to the comment period 
until September 23, 2016 (81 FR 54584). The public meeting was held on 
September 21, 2016, in Anchorage, Alaska. On January 10, 2017, the 
Coast Guard published a notice announcing the reopening of the comment 
period until April 10, 2017 (82 FR 3016). In conjunction with the 
reopened comment period, additional public meetings were held to 
further the dialogue and awareness of the alternative planning criteria 
national guidelines with federal, state, tribal, and local communities, 
especially in remote areas of Alaska including Bethel, Dillingham, 
Kotzebue, Nome, Utqiagvik, Kodiak, and Dutch Harbor.
    In summary, the Coast Guard received 49 electronic submissions 
during the two public comment periods. In addition, the Coast Guard 
heard statements from 12 speakers at the public meeting convened in 
Anchorage on September 21, 2016. From the electronically submitted 
comments and the statements, the Coast Guard received approximately 200 
individual comments.
    The Coast Guard appreciates the amount of time that federal, state, 
tribal, and local government entities, as well as private industry, 
committed throughout the two public comment periods to provide input. 
The value of all comments and feedback received in this process cannot 
be overstated. We carefully considered all of the input received when 
drafting the final revision to the alternative planning criteria 
national guidelines. A summary of all comments, and the Coast Guard's 
response to them, is available in our online docket at http://www.regulations.gov, and on https://homeport.uscg.mil under 
Environmental > Vessel Response Plan Program.

A. Alternatives as a Temporary Versus a Permanent Solution

    The Coast Guard received 25 comments recommending that the 
alternatives permitted under 33 CFR 155.1065 and 155.5067 be accepted 
as permanent equivalencies with the National Planning Criteria (NPC) 
found in 33 CFR part 155. The Coast Guard disagrees. The Coast Guard 
views the allowance for alternatives to the response standards required 
in 33 CFR part 155 as a bridging strategy to future NPC compliance. The 
Coast Guard does acknowledge, however, that some operating areas, 
especially remote areas, may require long-term alternatives.
    Particular to the NPC as an end state, one commenter noted that 
there exists an assumption by the Coast Guard that meeting the NPC is 
the only acceptable option for planning and responding to marine 
casualties that pose a threat of pollution, and that this assumption is 
flawed. We do not agree that there is an assumption that meeting the 
NPC is the only acceptable option for planning and responding to marine 
casualties that pose a threat of pollution. Such an assumption is 
contrary to the purpose and intent of the regulations that allow 
alternative planning criteria.

B. Prevention Measures

    The Coast Guard received 21 comments stating that the Coast Guard, 
in the draft alternative planning criteria national guidelines, is 
abandoning prevention measures. Another commenter stated that the 
updated guidelines suggest that tracking and monitoring capability 
could take the place of the need to plan for resource capability. The 
Coast Guard disagrees. Prevention measures are fully acceptable when 
included in an alternative, but do not equal the value of response and 
recovery-based strategies at the time of an incident. Language in the 
alternative planning criteria national guidelines that may have led to 
the impression that prevention measures, such as vessel tracking and 
monitoring, could take the place of resource capability was removed.
    Specific to prevention measures, one commenter believes that a 
conflict exists between the alternative planning criteria national 
guidelines and the regulations. Specifically, the commenter points out 
that the guidelines include very specific requirements for a tracking 
and monitoring system. In consideration of this comment and to avoid 
the perception of creating new requirements, the Coast Guard has 
amended the draft national guidelines to

[[Page 47977]]

no longer include tracking and monitoring systems as a specific 
prevention measure within an alternative. However, we consider tracking 
and monitoring systems as a helpful tool for both response and 
prevention strategies.
    One commenter noted that vessel tracking and monitoring is not 
necessary for all alternatives. The Coast Guard agrees. The alternative 
planning criteria national guidelines do not mandate the use or 
inclusion of vessel tracking and monitoring in proposals for 
alternatives.

C. Regulatory Overreach of the Alternative Planning Criteria National 
Guidelines

    One commenter perceived that the Coast Guard was requiring the 
tracking of vessels to be employed in a proposed ``response vessel of 
opportunity'' network. The Coast Guard disagrees and notes that the 
mention of vessel of opportunity tracking was an example of a process 
that an alternative might consider/propose. Nevertheless, language in 
the alternative planning criteria national guidelines was removed that 
may have led to the impression that tracking of vessels was required in 
a proposed ``response vessel of opportunity'' network.
    Seventeen comments suggested that the alternative planning criteria 
national guidelines represent regulatory overreach and an attempt to 
side-step the rulemaking process. The Coast Guard disagrees. The 
alternative planning criteria national guidelines do not create any 
substantive legal requirements on the regulated population. Under 
current Coast Guard regulation, owners and operators of both tank 
vessels (33 CFR 155.1065(f)) and nontank vessels (33 CFR 155.5067) may 
propose alternative frameworks when such vessel owner or operator 
believes that the national planning criteria are inappropriate for the 
areas in which the vessel intends to operate. The alternative planning 
criteria national guidelines afford a flexibility currently permitted 
by regulation. Therefore, they are not a rulemaking subject to notice 
and comment under the Administrative Procedure Act. We are providing 
these guidelines for the purpose of clarifying existing regulations.\1\
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    \1\ ``Agencies rely on guidance to clarify regulatory text or 
statutes, to respond to the questions of affected parties in a 
timely way, and to inform the public about complex policy 
implementation topics.'' GAO report on Regulatory Guidance Processes 
(April 2015).
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    On a related note, several commenters suggested that the language 
in the draft alternative planning criteria national guidelines is 
overly prescriptive or confusing, and therefore creates binding 
requirements with the ``force and effect'' of law. Examples include the 
use of definitions that either do not exist within, or are inconsistent 
with, the regulations. In consideration of these comments, and as noted 
above, we revised the alternative planning criteria national guidelines 
to remove language that could be perceived as inconsistent with or not 
covered by the regulations. The Coast Guard also removed the four draft 
enclosures.

D. Economic Assessment as an Element of the Request

    Thirty-eight comments were received on the economic analysis to be 
submitted with the alternative planning criteria request, as set out in 
33 CFR 155.5067. Several of these comments highlighted the potential 
for increased commodity and capital investment costs. Some of these 
comments also communicated that the alternative planning criteria 
national guidelines may result in significant increases in costs (for 
example, transportation of freight and fuel delivery by barges, 
transportation, home heating fuel costs of end users including native 
villages and other small communities in Alaska, oil spill equipment 
build-out costs, and contract and membership costs associated with the 
joining of multiple local spill response organizations as a solution to 
comply with the updated national guidelines).
    Foremost, the Coast Guard appreciates the comments received 
concerning the economic impact of alternative planning criteria and 
associated national guidelines. The Coast Guard takes these comments 
very seriously, and will carefully evaluate the economic impact 
assessments that plan holders or Alternative Planning Criteria 
Administrators submit as part of their proposed alternative(s) in 
accordance with 33 CFR part 155.

E. Coast Guard Sector/COTP Involvement in the Review Process of 
Alternatives

    Four comments noted that the alternative planning criteria national 
guidelines seem to remove the local Sector from decision making on 
proposed alternatives. The Coast Guard disagrees. While CG-MER is the 
ultimate decision making authority on proposed alternative planning 
criteria, local COTPs have a responsibility to review all proposed 
alternatives within their area of responsibility and provide an 
endorsement. This responsibility is set forth in 33 CFR 155.5067(a) for 
nontank vessels and the same responsibility applies in practice to tank 
vessels pursuant to 33 CFR 155.1065(f).

F. Local Area Committee Involvement in Review Process of Alternatives

    The Coast Guard received 21 comments regarding the inclusion of 
local Area Committees as part of the process for reviewing proposed 
alternatives. Specifically, the concern is that the Coast Guard intends 
to route proposed alternatives via Area Committees for approval. In 
consideration of these comments, we have modified the language in the 
alternative planning criteria national guidelines that could have led 
to the misimpression that the Coast Guard intends to seek Area 
Committee approval. The Coast Guard changed this language to reflect 
that local Area Committees may be included in a COTP's evaluation of 
proposed alternatives. Area Committees, however, do not approve 
alternatives.
    Additional comments questioned the legal authority under which Area 
Committees may be involved in the evaluation of alternatives. Area 
Committees were established as part of the National Planning and 
Response System created pursuant to Section 311 of the FWPCA (33 U.S.C. 
1321(j)). Area Committees represent an essential element of oil spill 
and hazardous substance contingency planning. Further, there is nothing 
in the legislation that would limit or prevent the Coast Guard from 
consulting with Area Committees on proposed alternatives.
    Two comments suggested that the COTP and local Area Committee 
should coordinate with the other federal and state entities including 
the Regional Response Team, National Strike Force Coordination Center, 
and the District Response Advisory Team, and the State of Alaska to 
ensure a comprehensive review of the gaps identified in alternative 
planning criteria submissions. The Coast Guard agrees, and notes the 
requirements for consultation with such entities in accordance with the 
National Oil and Hazardous Substance Pollution Contingency Plan (40 CFR 
part 300). The local Area Committee, under the direction of the Federal 
On-scene Coordinator (who is generally the COTP in the coastal zone), 
is responsible for directing the development of the Area Contingency 
Plan (ACP). In accordance with 40 CFR 300.210, ACPs are prepared by an 
Area Committee consisting of federal, state, and local agencies and in 
consultation with regional response teams and other appropriate 
entities. With respect to

[[Page 47978]]

evaluating proposed alternatives, although consultation with Area 
Committees is not required by the VRP regulations, COTPs, in their 
discretion, may consult with Area Committees, which may include the 
review of gaps identified in proposed alternatives.
    A related comment suggested that local Area Committees be informed 
by the Coast Guard when it receives a proposed alternative. As 
mentioned above, COTPs maintain the discretion to consult with the 
local Area Committee on proposed alternatives.
    One commenter acknowledged the Coast Guard's stated intent to 
coordinate with Area Committees, District Response Advisory Teams, and 
Coast Guard Sectors in its review of proposed alternatives. However, 
the commenter suggested that it is not clear how these public 
involvement procedures will work in practice, especially when the Coast 
Guard has indicated that some alternatives may be approved in fewer 
than 90 days. While our regulations say that alternatives should be 
submitted to the Coast Guard 90 days before a vessel intends to operate 
under the proposed alternative, we recognize that not all proposed 
alternatives are the same. Some alternatives may warrant more analysis 
than others. In recognition of this, the alternative planning criteria 
national guidelines recommend submission of proposed alternatives at 
least 180 days before a vessel intends to operate under the proposed 
alternative.

G. Geographic Extent of Alternatives

    Twenty-seven comments highlighted concern over the Coast Guard's 
intent to allow for alternatives that address a geographic area smaller 
than the entire extent of a COTP zone. Specifically, comments 
questioned the Coast Guard's authority to accept an alternative that 
only partially covers a COTP zone. Additionally, one comment forecasted 
a ``compliance quagmire'' if a patchwork of alternatives is allowed to 
exist within a COTP zone. The Coast Guard appreciates these concerns, 
but disagrees. The Coast Guard will continue to evaluate alternatives 
that adequately address areas where the NPC are inappropriate. The 
regulations specify that an alternative can be submitted for the 
geographic area(s) where the vessel intends to operate. See 33 CFR 
155.1065(f) and 155.5067(a).
    One commenter noted the belief that the alternative planning 
criteria national guidelines requirement to consider ``any and all'' 
environmental impacts of not meeting the NPC requirements is 
unreasonable, particularly for large and remote areas (e.g. Western 
Alaska). The Coast Guard agrees in part and disagrees in part. Previous 
alternative planning criteria policy guidance for tank vessels, as well 
as the existing regulations for nontank vessel response plans, require 
that proposed alternatives should, at a minimum, contain an 
environmental impact assessment (CG-543 Policy Letter 09-02 and 33 CFR 
155.5067(b)). To keep within the scope of the regulatory requirements, 
the Coast Guard reworded the guidelines to emphasize that an 
environmental impact assessment should, at a minimum, be included in 
the submission of an alternative. Additionally, to ensure compliance 
with 33 CFR 155.1030 and 155.5030, proposed alternatives should 
highlight sensitive areas from the applicable Area Contingency Plan(s) 
in their environmental impact assessment.
    One commenter proposed that Alaska be given its own planning 
standards given the physical, environmental, and geographic challenges 
unique to Alaska. We wish to point out that both the tank and nontank 
VRP regulations allow for the planning criteria to be tailored for a 
specific geographic location when the vessel owner or operator believes 
that the NPC are inappropriate for the areas they intend to operate.

H. Strategic Plan Replaced With Build-Out Plan

    Seven comments reflected concern regarding the submission of a 
``strategic plan'' as part of the proposed alternative(s). 
Additionally, some commenters asked how the Coast Guard would use and 
evaluate such a plan. We recognize the misunderstanding: We did not 
intend to refer to the company's strategic business plan, but rather a 
strategic plan for eventually meeting the NPC. In consideration of 
these concerns, we have revised the guidelines by replacing the phrase 
``strategic plan'' with ``build-out plan'' to avoid the misimpression 
that industry business planning processes should be submitted as part 
of a proposed alternative. The build-out plan is a means by which a 
plan holder can address how they will build up response capability to 
meet the NPC. The Coast Guard has consistently stated that the intent 
of alternative planning criteria is to gradually build-up response 
capability in remote areas. See, Final Rule on ``Nontank Vessel 
Response Plans and Other Response Plan Requirements'' (78 FR 60099). 
The build-out plan is not a formal, organizational, strategic plan, but 
rather a detailed description of the measureable steps towards 
compliance with the NPC. The Coast Guard will review build-out plans in 
its review of submitted alternatives. Additionally, the Coast Guard 
will review achievement of build-out plan goals in its review of 
alternatives submitted for renewal.

I. Enforcement and Evaluation

    The Coast Guard received 10 comments regarding the enforcement of 
alternative planning criteria, including concerns over the Coast 
Guard's ability to ensure compliance, especially in remote areas. The 
Coast Guard recognizes that remote areas may be challenging to frequent 
and regular verification efforts; nevertheless, at the discretion of 
the COTP, the Coast Guard will exercise its authority to verify 
compliance with approved alternatives.
    One commenter recommended the Coast Guard add clarity as to what 
level of response capability, and future expanded capability, the Coast 
Guard will be seeking prior to approving future alternatives. The Coast 
Guard will evaluate the adequacy of response capabilities listed in 
alternatives, including expanded response capability addressed in the 
build-out plan. The Coast Guard's evaluation includes verifying that 
response resources are adequate in the areas intended, and that the 
alternative will provide an equivalent oil spill removal capacity. 
Additionally, alternatives are subject to equipment inspections, 
personnel training verifications, and exercise evaluations, including 
validation of build-out plan milestone achievement.

J. Policy Necessity

    Two commenters questioned the need for the alternative planning 
criteria national guidelines, noting that the CG-543 Policy Letter 09-
02 and MSIB 03-14 for Western Alaska were clear, concise, and simple. 
The CG-543 Policy Letter 09-02 was a national policy that only covered 
tank vessels. MSIB 03-14 was issued by the COTP for Western Alaska and 
specific to the Western Alaska COTP zone. The Coast Guard saw a need 
for a national policy that covers both tank and nontank vessels on 
alternative planning criteria.
    One commenter noted that the Coast Guard's approval of an 
alternative plays a critical role in the level of environmental 
protection provided in the region. The Coast Guard agrees and notes 
that an environmental impact assessment is one of the elements that an 
owner or operator of a tank or nontank vessel should, at a minimum, 
include for the Coast Guard's consideration in determining whether to 
accept an alternative(s).
    One commenter suggested that the policy reflect the stated 
regulation; that an alternative can be submitted for consideration any 
time that the vessel

[[Page 47979]]

owner or operator feels the NPC are inappropriate or unattainable for 
reasons beyond their control or, when a vessel owner or operator can 
demonstrate that the alternative will provide an equivalent or superior 
level of response and/or protection as the NPC. The Coast Guard agrees 
in part and disagrees in part. The Coast Guard agrees that the 
alternative planning criteria may be submitted when an owner or 
operator believes the NPC are inappropriate for the area in which the 
vessel intends to operate. The Coast Guard does not agree, nor do the 
regulations in 33 CFR part 155 contemplate, the use of an 
alternative(s) where the NPC can be met.

K. Aleutian Islands Risk Assessment Consideration in Alternatives

    One commenter noted that the Aleutian Islands Risk Assessment 
(AIRA) and the response model contained therein are better suited to 
the Alaskan region than compliance with the regulations. The Coast 
Guard disagrees. The AIRA presents one possible response model as an 
alternative planning approach for one region of the country. The Coast 
Guard will not dictate the prevention, response and/or mitigation 
strategies that a vessel owner or operator can propose where the NPC 
are inappropriate.

L. Applicability of Salvage and Marine Firefighting Resources in 
Alternatives

    Two commenters recommended that salvage and marine firefighting 
resources should not be included in an alternative(s). The Coast Guard 
disagrees. Nothing in the regulations precludes the consideration of 
salvage and marine firefighting in a proposed alternative. Accordingly, 
in areas where salvage and marine firefighting national planning 
criteria are inappropriate, a vessel owner or operator may propose an 
alternative.
    One commenter requested to know if the Coast Guard intends on 
requiring salvage and marine firefighting equipment to be listed in the 
Coast Guard response resource inventory (RRI). The Coast Guard 
appreciates the commenter's suggestion. The RRI is a voluntary option 
for certain response resource providers. The Coast Guard recommends 
that the response resources listed in alternatives be entered into the 
RRI.

M. Content of Proposed Alternatives Submitted to the Coast Guard

    One commenter noted that the requirement to state each class of 
vessel and its associated worst case discharge volume and oil group is 
unnecessary. The Coast Guard agrees and modified the language in the 
alternative planning criteria national guidelines to reflect that an 
alternative may cover a single vessel or fleet of vessels and should 
state the vessel type(s) and oil volumes by type.
    One commenter felt that vessel tracking, administration of vessel 
of opportunity programs, vessel of opportunity training programs, and 
the requirement to assure five vessels are available are cost 
prohibitive, inconceivable, and unattainable. A related comment 
recommended that the Coast Guard consider clarifying that the examples 
listed in the alternative national policy guidelines and enclosures are 
not requirements, but examples. The draft alternative planning criteria 
national guidelines did not require any of the above programs or 
strategies but rather presented them as examples of strategies. To 
avoid further confusion, however, the Coast Guard removed these 
examples from the alternative planning criteria national guidelines.
    One commenter noted that an oil spill trajectory and fate analysis 
for the entire coastline of a vessel's route within a VRP geographic 
specific appendix is an unreasonable requirement, costly, and adds no 
value to a proposed alternative. We wish to make clear that while there 
is no specific requirement for trajectories or fate analyses, these are 
useful for the Coast Guard's evaluation of proposed alternatives and 
may appropriately be included in a plan holder's environmental impact 
assessment.
    Two commenters noted a concern that documenting a vessel's track 
line information was overly burdensome and goes beyond what is required 
by the regulations. In consideration of these comments, we revised the 
alternative planning criteria national guidelines to remove language 
that could be perceived as inconsistent with the regulations. The 
revised language recommends that proposed alternatives include a 
general description of the intended vessel operations, such as track 
lines and/or intended vessel routes.
    One commenter noted that the alternative planning criteria national 
guidelines should be written to ensure that exercises and verifications 
are conducted in conditions that reflect all intended seasonal 
operations. The Coast Guard notes that the alternative planning 
criteria national guidelines do not limit or otherwise prescribe the 
timing of exercises or verifications. The timing will ultimately be 
determined by the COTP as part of a risk-based decision process.
    One commenter stated that continual improvement on alternatives, 
with a focus on response resources, should be considered when reviewing 
an alternative. The Coast Guard agrees and notes that the alternative 
planning criteria national guidelines include these considerations, 
especially as part of the build-out plan.

N. Submission Process for Alternatives

    One commenter noted that the term ``administrator'' is not defined 
in the VRP regulations. The Coast Guard agrees and defines the term 
``Alternative Planning Criteria Administrator'' in the alternative 
planning criteria national guidelines.
    One commenter noted that the Coast Guard's timelines for accepting 
alternatives has not been in accordance with the regulatory timelines, 
and believes the Coast Guard should adhere to the review timeline in 
the regulations. The Coast Guard agrees that timely review is 
beneficial, and will work toward completing timely reviews of proposed 
alternatives. While the regulations in 33 CFR 155.1065(f) and Sec.  
155.5067(a) require submission of alternative planning criteria 
requests 90 days before the vessel intends to operate under a proposed 
alternative, the alternative planning criteria national guidelines 
recommend submission at least 180 days due to the myriad factors that 
must be evaluated, as well as the need for coordination and 
consultation in the review process.
    One commenter noted that the Coast Guard excluded the provision for 
Alternative Planning Criteria Administrators to submit alternative 
proposals. The Coast Guard agrees and has added ``Alternative Planning 
Criteria Administrators'' to the submission process in the alternative 
planning criteria national guidelines.
    One commenter noted that the alternative planning criteria national 
guidelines should address mechanisms to make revisions or improvements 
to an alternative after approval and/or an appeals process. The Coast 
Guard agrees. The alternative planning criteria national guidelines 
were updated to address revisions to submitted alternatives. 
Specifically, vessel owner or operators, or Alternative Planning 
Criteria Administrators, should submit any significant change that 
affects the information included in the accepted alternative(s) to the 
cognizant COTP. COTPs should endorse the proposed alternative and 
forward to Commandant Office of Marine Environmental Response Policy 
(CG-MER) through the

[[Page 47980]]

cognizant CG District and Area staff offices.

O. Outreach

    One commenter stated that, while the Coast Guard has held meetings 
with local stakeholders and communities in Western Alaska, the Coast 
Guard has not reached out to the wider shipping community that will 
also be affected by the alternative planning criteria national 
guidelines. The commenter recommended that the Coast Guard establish an 
industry working group that includes the wider community in order to 
seek constructive input into these important issues, especially given 
the large number of international trading vessels that transit the 
Great Circle Route through Western Alaska.
    The Coast Guard agrees that input from stakeholders in every region 
is important and that is one of the reasons we requested public comment 
on the draft alternative planning criteria national guidelines. The 
Coast Guard is interested in continuing the discussion on improving the 
alternative planning criteria national guidelines and welcomes the 
opportunity to discuss the subject at local area committee meetings, 
regional response team meetings, and other relevant forums.
    Two commenters supported improved communications between the Coast 
Guard and appropriate State environmental offices particular to 
response capability and alternatives. One commenter specifically 
mentioned that appropriate State environmental offices should be part 
of the approval and inspection/verification processes of alternatives. 
As Area Committee members, State environmental offices should be 
engaging with the Coast Guard on oil spill response planning, including 
response capability and alternatives. However, the Coast Guard is not 
abdicating its responsibility to evaluate, nor its decision making 
authority on the appropriateness of, proposed alternatives.
    One commenter suggested that the current procedure for accepting 
proposed alternatives has been inconsistent and has not been an 
inclusive process specific to State environmental offices ``as required 
by regulation.'' We believe it is important to clarify that our 
regulations do not impose such a requirement, but note that the 
alternative planning criteria national guidelines mention that COTPs 
may, in their discretion, consult with Area Committees, of which State 
environmental offices are members. Concerning consistency in the 
procedure for accepting proposed alternatives, one of the goals of 
these alternative planning criteria national guidelines is to 
facilitate COTP consistency in the review of proposed alternatives. 
However, as noted above, not all proposed alternatives are the same; 
consequently, some proposals will generate more review and analysis 
than others.
    One commenter suggested that engagement with the local communities 
and stakeholders should continue beyond that which has already taken 
place as part of the implementation of the alternative planning 
criteria national guidelines. The Coast Guard agrees. The Coast Guard 
is appreciative of the input received in the development of the 
alternative planning criteria national guidelines, and looks forward to 
continuing this dialogue at local area committee meetings, regional 
response team meetings, and other forums.
    Three commenters suggested that it is essential that the Coast 
Guard monitor and report periodically to the public on the status of 
oil spill response readiness for a COTP zone. One commenter 
specifically requested that the Coast Guard require Alternative 
Planning Criteria Administrators or planholders to provide public 
summaries of the progress made toward closing response gaps and an 
evaluation of the prevention and risk reduction measures specified in 
the alternative. The Coast Guard COTPs, in coordination with the local 
area committee, can determine appropriate information sharing 
procedures to address oil spill response readiness. Additionally, the 
Coast Guard RRI may be a useful tool, where resource providers may 
voluntarily list response resources to facilitate this awareness, 
including the resources listed in alternatives.
    One commenter suggested that the Coast Guard make available for 
public comment submitted alternatives, including alternatives submitted 
for renewal, before making its final approval determination. The Coast 
Guard is appreciative of this suggestion. However, we believe that 
initiating a public comment process for submitted alternatives would 
significantly impede the timely review of alternatives.

P. Miscellaneous Comments

    One commenter expressed concern with the aggressive timeline 
associated with updating and re-submitting existing alternative 
planning criteria to align with the updated alternative planning 
criteria national guidelines. The Coast Guard agrees. Vessel owner or 
operators, or Alternative Planning Criteria Administrators, of 
currently existing alternative planning criteria may request an 
extension from the Coast Guard for up to six months beyond the date of 
expiration.
    One commenter recommended that the Coast Guard post response 
contracts online and provide local communities with funding to assist 
with the outreach effort needed to gain local knowledge and expertise 
in the contract review of alternatives in VRPs. Posting response 
contracts online would create significant delays in the Coast Guard's 
review of submitted alternatives. This is because parties to the 
contract would have to redact business proprietary information, and the 
Coast Guard, as the entity that is posting the information, would have 
the responsibility of reviewing the redactions to ensure the content 
was acceptable for posting. We believe these additional steps would 
significantly impede the timely review of alternatives. Regarding the 
suggestion to provide funding to organizations to assist in outreach 
efforts, the Coast Guard does not have the legal authority to provide 
funding to organizations. However, engagement with local area 
committees, or regional response teams, offer a means to help build 
awareness of, and further strengthen, current strategies and response 
capabilities to address removal of a worst case discharge, or 
substantial threat of such a discharge.
    Two commenters suggested that they believe competition created by 
accepted alternatives, and in general, competition within the oil spill 
prevention and response markets, is a good thing. This comment is 
outside the scope of the alternative planning criteria national 
guidelines as the purpose of the alternative planning criteria national 
guidelines is to provide guidance for the development and submission of 
alternatives with the goal of increasing response capacity.
    One commenter offered that competition created in alternative 
planning criteria has led to response capability reductions. The Coast 
Guard has no authority to control market competition; therefore, this 
comment is outside the scope of the alternative planning criteria 
national guidelines.
    Three commenters stated that additional resources not listed in a 
vessel response plan or alternative plan will not be made available to 
respond to an incident. These comments are outside the scope of the 
updated alternative planning criteria national guidelines.
    One commenter suggested that VRP requirements, including 
alternatives, should include vessels on innocent passage. This comment 
is outside the scope of the updated alternative planning criteria 
national guidelines.

[[Page 47981]]

    This notice is issued under the authority of 5 U.S.C. 552(a).

Joseph B. Loring,
Captain, Office of Marine Environmental Response Policy.
[FR Doc. 2017-22333 Filed 10-13-17; 8:45 am]
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