The Environmental Protection Agency today proposed air emission standards for large sea-going vessels such as oil tankers, cruise ships, and cargo vessels that will do little to clean the air. Each day in large ports such as Long Beach, California, these ships can generate as much pollution as one million cars. These vessels represent the fastest growing, least-regulated sources of pollution in the United States. The EPA has identified foreign vessels as major contributors to US air pollution, but has refused to regulate these ships.
The proposed new rules 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.
“Oil tanker owners and the oil industry have relentlessly lobbied the administration to weaken or delay this regulation, and clearly they succeeded,” said Dr. Russell Long, Director of Bluewater Network. “This is terrible news for Americans living around coastal cities because ships are the world’s biggest polluters, poisoning the air with smog, fine particles, and global warming gases. This is a sham regulation that will force public health and environmental groups back to court.”
Oil tanker owners are represented by an Association called Intertanko, which has heavily lobbied the Administration to delay or weaken the proposed EPA regulations.
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. According to the EPA, large ships belch 273 thousand tons per year — 748 tons each day — of NOx into U.S. air. Given recent technology advances, a 90 to 95 percent decrease in NOx emissions appears well within reach; sulfur levels should be established to meet similar levels already achieved by Sweden.
“These ships run on the dirtiest fuel available,” said Martin Wagner, attorney for Earthjustice. “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 vehicle and stationary source emission.”
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.
EPA claimed it did not need to regulate these engines because an international marine pollution treaty — called the MARPOL Annex VI Convention — may slightly reduce NOx emissions. However, the 1997 treaty is unlikely to take effect for many years, because it requires ratification by countries responsible for at least 50 percent of world shipping tonnage, representing at least 15 nations. So far only five nations, representing only 16 percent of the world shipping fleet, have ratified the agreement. Although the United States has signed the agreement, the administration has not sent the agreement to the US Senate for ratification.
Bluewater Network issued a report called A Stacked Deck: Air Pollution from Large Ships, that indicates that large ships are the world’s dirtiest transportation source, exposing ship and dock workers, as well as port residents, to significant air pollution.