Those large cargo ships that transport cars from Japan, wheat to Europe, and wine from Chile are the most polluting forms of transportation on the planet. Increased trade, an expanding cruise ship industry, and all those oil tankers have turned our common oceans into big smoggy freeways. The air pollution along international shipping lanes can now even be seen from satellites. When these ships pull into port, each one can put as much pollution into the local air as a thousand diesel trucks. Municipal areas like Los Angeles andor Houston, already struggling to meet clean air standards, have little ability to regulate these pollution behemoths. Globally, the world's biggest ships account for 14 percent of nitrogen oxides and 16 percent of sulfur oxide emissions from petroleum sources, and worldwide shipping is expected to triple by 2020.
Earthjustice and Bluewater Network teamed up in a lawsuit to force the Environmental Protection Agency to establish emission standards for large sea-going vessels flagged in the US. The Clean Air Act requires EPA to establish regulations to reduce air pollution from non-automobile engines that significantly contribute to pollution in areas with poor air quality. In January 2001, a settlement was reached with the EPA to ensure that the agency sets standards for big ships by 2003.
Unfortunately, the 2003 rule still falls short of the requirements of the Clean Air Act. Therefore, in March 2003, Earthjustice filed a follow-up lawsuit challenging the 2003 rule on behalf of Bluewater Network. This suit alleged that the 2003 rule is insufficient because it does not require any meaningful emissions reductions from US-flagged vessels, and does not even apply to foreign-flagged vessels. This challenge, however, was rejected by a federal appeals court in June 2004.