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EPA Proposes Tough Emissions Rules for Ships

The EPA announced plans to create tougher rules to reduce air pollution from U.S.-flagged ships Wednesday, the same day new fuel regulations for ocean-going vessels went into effect in California. A day earlier, the state finally received a long sought-after waiver that allows it to regulate vehicle tailpipe emissions in its efforts to address climate change.

A day after granting California the authority to regulate vehicle tailpipe emissions as part of its efforts to address climate change, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced plans to create tougher rules to reduce air pollution from U.S.-flagged large ships.
The new shipping rules are designed to reduce emissions of diesel particulate matter and sulfur and nitrogen oxides, which can cause cancer and result in premature deaths.

“These emissions are contributing to health, environmental and economic challenges for port communities and others that are miles inland,” EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said in a prepared statement today. “Building on our work to form an international agreement earlier this year, we’re taking the next steps to reduce significant amounts of harmful pollution from getting into the air we breathe.”

The EPA's Proposed Federal Rules

The shipping industry has for years faced pressure to clean up its act. In the U.S., ports are large sources of pollutants that can negatively impact human health, water and air quality. World ports have responded with commitments and pledges to reduce emissions.

EPA’s new proposed rules would require that new ocean-going ships are equipped with engine technologies that reduce nitrogen oxide emissions beginning in 2011. More stringent nitrogen oxide standards would go into effect in 2016; the agency also plans to draft emissions limits for hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide. Engine manufacturers must also measure and report emissions of particulate matter, but no direct standards will be imposed.

The new rules would also prohibit marine fuel oil with a sulfur content greater than 1,000 parts per million (ppm) from being produced or sold for use in the 230-mile long U.S. Emission Control Area (ECA) extending 200 nautical miles from U.S. and Canadian coastlines. The ECA rule applies to all ships entering the area and is to be considered by International Maritime Organization members in two weeks. Approval of the ECA rule could mean it could go into effect as early as 2012.

California's New Shipping Rules Take Effect Today

A separate ship emissions rule that went into effect today in California requires that ocean-going ships must use lower-sulfur fuel within 24 nautical miles of the state’s coastline. In 2012, the use of very low sulfur fuel will be required. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) estimates more than seven million residents are exposed to high cancer risk levels due to diesel particulate matter emissions; the new law will reduce cancer risk by more than 80 percent and prevent about 3,600 premature deaths between 2009 and 2015.

California’s new ship regulations are estimated to cost 2,000 impacted vessels an additional $30,000 per port visit. A federal court judge denied a legal challenge from the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association on Tuesday that sought to prevent the new fuel regulation from taking effect.

"This new measure will help coastal residents breathe easier and reduce pollution in our oceans and waterways at the same time," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a prepared statement today.

EPA Grants California's Vehicle Tailpipe Emissions Waiver

California also prevailed on another Clean Air Act-related effort to cut emissions on Tuesday. The state finally received its long sought-after waiver for the authority to regulate vehicle tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.

The development ended a nearly five-year battle between California and more than a dozen other states against the Bush Administration and the auto industry.

Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA can give California waivers to adopt air pollution laws that are stricter than federal regulations because of the state’s history of smog and other air quality issues. The EPA has granted the state roughly 50 waivers over the last 40 years.

California requested the tailpipe emissions waiver in late 2005 to support the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, which mandates the state reduce greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by 2020. The regulations were adopted by 13 other states. The EPA denied the waiver last year on the same day former President George W. Bush introduced new but weaker mileage standards.

California led a coalition of states in legal battles over the waiver, but President Barack Obama ordered the EPA to reassess the decision shortly after taking office. In May, he announced a new national fuel economy and emissions reduction policy for new vehicles sold between 2012 and 2016. By 2016, the U.S. fleet must achieve an average of 35.5 miles per gallon.

Granting the waiver to California is significant because if the federal process is delayed, California and its sister states will still be driving this change within the auto industry, James Fine, an economist with the Environmental Defense Fund, told via email Tuesday. 

“The Obama administration has made clear its intent to act decisively and quickly, but that action will involve several steps that California has taken already,” Fine said. “The foundational lawmaking is etched in the books, CARB has done the research, automakers have been on notice for years, and the regulatory rule making process is already well underway.”

Image CC licensed by Flickr user wirralwater.

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