Conservationists filed a lawsuit in federal court late Monday challenging an EPA final rule establishing standards for air emissions of nitrogen oxides in the largest category of ocean-going ships.
The groups claim the EPA regulation is essentially meaningless. EPA's standards are already met by most ships and, by EPA's own admission, do not satisfy the Clean Air Act's requirement to "achieve the greatest reduction in emissions achievable" with available control technology. EPA also all ignored all foreign ships, which make up 95% of large vessel traffic in U.S. ports and thus contribute significantly to U.S. air pollution.
"These ships run on the dirtiest fuel available," said Martin Wagner, attorney for Earthjustice representing Bluewater Network in the case. "While port communities from Los Angeles to Boston try to meet federal clean air standards, their efforts can be thwarted by just a few cargo ships a day belching the equivalent of the pollution from thousands of unregulated vehicles and stationary sources."
The Environmental Protection Agency issued final air emissions standards in January for large sea-going vessels such as oil tankers, cruise ships, and cargo vessels that will do virtually nothing to clean the air. Near some port areas such as Santa Barbara, California, these ships are generating equivalent air pollution to all on-road vehicles combined.
The weak regulation resulted from a lawsuit settlement reached in 2001 by the San Francisco-based environmental group, Bluewater Network, represented by Earthjustice, challenging EPA's failure to set any standard for smog-forming emissions under the Clean Air Act.
"Federal records prove that the EPA attempted to go much farther with this regulation, but the Bush administration forced the agency to back off on both the stringency of the standards and the deadlines, too," said Russell Long, Executive Director of Bluewater Network. "Dirty foreign-flag ships -- the lion's share of the problem - will get a free ride until at least 2007 since the rule does not force them to reduce emissions. And engine builders for U.S. ships are already voluntarily meeting the new standards, so on neither count does this regulation actually improve air quality. We're headed back to court."
Long continued, "The oil tanker owners lobbied the Bush Administration to delay and weaken this regulation, and once again, fossil politics trumped the public interest. It's a disastrous defeat for the environment."
Oil tanker owners are represented by an association called Intertanko (lobbyist: Jonathan Benner, Esq.: 202-274-2880).
Globally, the world's biggest ships account for 14 percent of total nitrogen oxides (NOx) and 16 percent of all sulfur oxide emissions from petroleum sources. Given recent technology advances, a 90 to 95 percent decrease in NOx emissions appears well within reach; and sulfur levels should be established to attain low levels already achieved by Sweden.
Since worldwide shipping is expected to triple by 2020 as a result of global trade agreements, air pollution is expected to jump significantly. 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. Based on a 1991 study, EPA determined that the largest type of ship engines -- called "Category 3" engines -- were a "significant contributor" of important pollutants, including NOx.
Bluewater Network issued a report entitled A Stacked Deck: Air Pollution from Large Ships which indicates that large ships are the world's dirtiest transportation source, exposing ship and dock workers, as well as port residents, to extreme levels of air pollution.
Martin Wagner, Earthjustice 510-550-6700
Russell Long, Bluewater Network, 415-544-0790, x18
Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.