EPA Petitioned to Reduce Global Warming Pollution from Ships

U.S. Supreme Court clears way for EPA to act, California Attorney General files separate petition


Brian Smith, Earthjustice, (510) 550-6714
Dianne Saenz, Oceana, (202) 467-1909
Nick Berning, Friends of the Earth, (202) 222-0748

A coalition of environmental advocates filed a petition today with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), asking the agency to set pollution rules for large, ocean-going marine vessels. These vessels include cargo and cruise ships. Earthjustice, the leading U.S. public interest environmental law firm, filed this first ever petition on behalf of Oceana, Friends of the Earth and the Center for Biological Diversity.

California Attorney General Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown, Jr. also filed a petition to U.S. EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson on behalf of the state of California today, with a similar request.

The petitions would require the EPA to assess ships’ contributions to global warming, seek public comment and issue rules to reduce this pollution or explain why it will not act.

The April 2007 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court clearly established that the Clean Air Act gives the EPA authority to address global warming. The EPA must act immediately and issue regulations to limit pollution that contributes to global warming. The petitions filed today begin the process of imposing mandatory regulations on the marine transportation sector. The petitioners asked the EPA to respond within 180 days.

The Climate Change Problem

The science is unequivocal. Global climate change is real, occurring at an alarming rate with catastrophic consequences, and is caused primarily by human activity. Ships are major sources of greenhouse gas emissions. The global fleet of marine vessels releases almost three percent of the world’s carbon dioxide, an amount comparable to the emissions of Canada. Because of their huge number and inefficient operating practices, marine vessels release a large volume of global warming pollutants, particularly carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and black carbon (or soot).

Despite their impact on the global climate, greenhouse gas emissions from ships are not currently regulated by the United States government.  In addition, these emissions are not limited under the Kyoto Protocol or other international treaties that address global warming.

Ships’ Contribution to the Climate Change Problem

Global shipping activity has increased by three percent per year for the last three decades and this rate of growth is projected to increase. If fuel use remains unchanged, shipping pollution will increase substantially, potentially doubling from 2002 levels by 2020 and tripling by 2030.

“Global warming pollution from ships is a substantial problem. But fortunately, it’s one that can be solved,” said Danielle Fugere of Friends of the Earth. “Slower speeds, cleaner fuels, better ships — the steps that the shipping industry must take are clear. It’s up to the EPA to ensure these steps are taken.”

Why We Should Care

Climate change is already causing widespread melting of Arctic glaciers and sea ice, shortening the snow season and raising global temperatures.  

The resulting sea level rise could eliminate up to 22 percent of the worlds coastal wetlands and as much as 43 percent of U.S. wetlands. Wetlands provide habitat, protect against floods and storm surges and contribute to local economies.

Our oceans and freshwater environments, including organisms at the bottom of the aquatic food chain, are already under stress from climate change. Ranges of algae, plankton and fish have shifted in response to changes in water temperature, ice cover, oxygen content, salinity and circulation. If they die off, entire aquatic ecosystems will follow.

Among the species that are struggling to adapt to rapidly changing habitats are cold-water fish, such as salmon and cod, polar bears, walruses, seals, whales, caribou, reindeer, corals, turtles and countless species of migrating sea birds.

“If we’re going to slow the Arctic melt-down and save Arctic species, we must control global warming pollution from ships,” said Kassie Siegel, Climate Program Director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “Implementing the solutions in the petition is the first step toward slowing warming and protecting these species’ future.”

Human health is also impacted by climate change caused by global warming pollution. Climate-related illnesses include air-quality related heart and lung disease, heat-stroke, malnutrition, and casualties from fires, storms and floods.

“Climate change is threatening ocean life from the Arctic to the tropics. Shipping pollution has been given a free pass so far and it’s way past time to fix that,” said Dr. Michael Hirshfield, Oceana’s Senior Vice President for North America and Chief Scientist.

Potential Solutions

The coalition’s petition asks the Environmental Protection Agency to:

  • Require marine vessels to increase their fuel efficiency, thereby reducing carbon dioxide and other pollutants

  • Require marine vessels to use cleaner fuels to reduce greenhouse gas and soot emissions

  • Extend these new regulations to all marine cargo vessels operating in U.S. waters, whether they are registered in the United States or another country, to avoid disproportionate burdens on U.S. ships and to reduce pollution emitted in U.S. waters

“Halting and reversing global warming will require innovation across every sector of the global economy,” said Tim Ballo, attorney for Earthjustice. “Today, we are asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to begin regulating global warming pollution in earnest. The time for voluntary measures has passed.”

Read the petition filed by conservation groups.  Read the petition filed by the State of California.

  • Oceana is an international ocean conservation group, which works to protect and restore ocean ecosystems from many threats, including climate change. For more information, go to www.oceana.org/climate.
  • Friends of the Earth is the U.S. voice of the world’s largest environmental federation, with grassroots groups in more than 70 countries. FoE fights to defend the environment and ensure a healthy and just world.  Its Clean Vessels Campaign works to reduce pollution from ships and other oceangoing vessels. For more information, go to www.foe.org.
  • The Center for Biological Diversity is a national nonprofit conservation organization with more than 35,000 members dedicated to protecting endangered species and wild lands. For more information, go to www.biologicaldiversity.org
  • Earthjustice is a non-profit public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment. We bring about far-reaching change by enforcing and strengthening environmental laws on behalf of hundreds of organizations and communities.

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