Report Finds Ships the Dirtiest Transportation Source, Causing Smog at Sea and in Port

Lawsuit Filed Against EPA for Failure to Regulate Large Ship Emissions


Russell Long, Bluewater Network, 415-788-3666 x110


Martin Wagner, Earthjustice, 415-627-6700

A report by the environmental organization Bluewater Network concludes that large ships are the dirtiest transportation source, causing smog and sulfur emissions across the world’s most heavily plied ocean shipping routes as well as in major port areas such as Los Angeles, San Diego, Baltimore, Port Arthur, and New York. The report entitled, A Stacked Deck: Air Pollution from Ships, (available online at concludes that ship emissions significantly threaten the health of people living in major port areas, and cause climate changes across the world’s oceans due to their very dirty fuels.

Large vessels employ fuels considered to be the dirtiest available, with sulfur levels up to 5,000 times higher than diesel trucks or buses, which contributes to very high levels of sulfur over the world’s oceans. A Carnegie Mellon study recently concluded that this is causing climate changes due to ship exhaust’s effect upon cloud formation, possibly masking human-caused global warming. The report concludes that ships also cause considerable smog-forming emissions from their oversized engines across ocean routes and in port areas.

The Environmental Protection Agency, concerned that regulating ship fuels would cause ships to fuel in other countries such as Canada or Mexico, has decided to let the International Maritime Organization, an organ of the United Nations, take control of pollution from ships in a treaty known as MARPOL Annex IV. However, as Bluewater Network made clear to EPA before the rule was finalized, Annex V — which is so weak it would still allow ship emissions to grow by 13 percent by 2030 — is not an enforceable agreement and is unlikely to be anytime soon. The agreement will only go into effect when countries responsible for at least 50 percent of the world’s shipping traffic ratify the treaty. So far only two nations have done so, representing only 5 percent of world shipping. Without the treaty being signed, emissions will grow by 35 percent by 2030.

“A single container ship belches more pollution than 2,000 diesel trucks. With the explosion in global trade, 95 percent of which occurs in ships, oceans are beginning to look like freeways,” said Russell Long, Executive Director of Bluewater Network. “It’s outrageous that the EPA regulates all other transportation sources but is stacking the deck for ships.”

A lawsuit was filed in the US Circuit Court February 24, 2000 and an initial brief was filed today seeking to compel the Environmental Protection Agency to create strong emission standards for large sea-going vessels that impose a significant smog burden on US port cities. According to EPA, those vessels belch 273 thousand tons per year – 748 tons each day – of nitrogen oxides (NOx) into U.S. air, and are one of the largest sources of particulate matter emissions in port cities. The lawsuit, filed by Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund on behalf of the Bluewater Network, challenges EPA’s failure to set any standard for NOx emissions.

“EPA’s refusal to regulate emissions from these ships is not only illegal, it places an unnecessary obstacle in the way of efforts to improve U.S. air quality,” said Martin Wagner, attorney for Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund.

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