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Defending EPA Rule Reducing Large Ship Pollution

Case Number # 2406

A coalition of environmental groups, represented by Earthjustice, has moved to intervene in a court case to support a low-sulfur fuel requirement for ships in most U.S. waters, including southern Alaska.

The State of Alaska filed suit in July of 2012 against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. State Department. Alaska is challenging the application of the federal low-sulfur fuel standard in the state.

Ocean-going vessels with large marine diesel engines, such as container ships, tankers, freighters and cruise ships, are a significant source of air pollution in coastal states. In 2010, at the request of the United States and Canada, the International Maritime Organization designated North American waters as an Emissions Control Area, or ECA. With EPA’s rule implementing the ECA standards, ships are now required to control their air pollution in U.S. coastal waters by burning low-sulfur fuels.

In response to the state of Alaska’s challenge to the low-sulfur requirement, Earthjustice is representing the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund and filed to intervene in the this case to defend the rule.

Prior to the low-sulfur fuel rule, large ships burned heavy fuel oil—a by-product of refining crude oil—which emits large amounts sulfur oxide (SOx), nitrogen oxide (NOx), diesel particulate matter, and other pollutants. Air pollution from ships is expected to grow significantly over the next two decades. EPA estimates that without improved regulation, SOx and NOx emissions from ships will more than double by 2030, growing to 1.4 million and 2.1 million tons a year, respectively, while annual particulate pollution will almost triple to 170,000 tons.

Currently more than 30 major U.S. ports along the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Pacific coasts are located in nonattainment areas for ozone and/or particulate pollution. The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have calculated that ocean-going vessels produce 59 percent of the total diesel particulate matter emissions in the area, 36 percent of the NOx emissions, and 90 percent of the sulfur oxide SOx emissions. If Alaska were to succeed in its challenge, EPA’s rule could be invalidated nationwide.

Earthjustice and its clients have been involved for more than a decade in the establishment of more stringent international standards to control pollution from ships, and have engaged in litigation under the Clean Air Act to compel EPA to act to protect U.S. air quality from ship pollution.

Press Releases

Friday, September 28, 2012
State of Alaska challenges federal efforts to clean up dirty marine diesel