Skip to main content

EPA Moves to Reduce Ship Pollution

On March 30, 2009, EPA chief Lisa Jackson announced that she will ask the International Maritime Organization to create an emission control area (ECA) around the coastline of the United States.

According to Jackson, "The creation of an ECA would save up to 8,300 American and Canadian lives every year by 2020 by imposing stricter standards on oil tankers and other large ships that spew harmful emissions into the air near coastal communities where tens of millions of Americans live, work, play and learn."

This is a positive move that Earthjustice fully supports. In fact, Earthjustice has been raising this issue in federal courts since 1999.

Why Ships?

Ocean-going vessels are one of the largest mobile sources of air pollution in the world, powered by engines comparable in size to those that run power plants. Yet, regulation of these ships has lagged far behind other sources of air pollution.

The fuel burned by ships is 1,000 times dirtier than highway diesel used by trucks and buses.

A single cargo ship coming into port can emit the smog-forming emissions of 350,000 cars and this pollution is often pumped directly into low-income urban neighborhoods surrounding ports. Childhood asthma rates are remarkably high in port cities.

So EPA's action to curb pollution from these massive vessels is welcome news.  However, Administrator Jackson's proposal omits a important yet fragile region of the United States:  Alaska.  

Arctic Unprotected

In addition to the impacts of ship pollution on human health and the environment, emissions from ocean-going vessels are important contributors to the accelerated global warming that is occurring in Alaska and throughout the Arctic.

Ship traffic and the resulting emissions of air pollutants in Alaskan waters are anticipated to rise dramatically in the near future as the melting of sea ice opens new shipping lanes from Asia to Europe and North America. It is essential that standards to limit the emissions of harmful pollutants from ocean-going vessels be in place to protect Alaskan communities and the environment before this increase in ship traffic occurs.

Earthjustice, on behalf of a coalition of environmental and indigenous organizations has asked EPA to amend the application to include this fragile marine ecosystem.

We are watching this issue closely and will keep you up-to-date with news and actions you can take to help reduce ship pollution everywhere.

Stay tuned.