EPA Sued Over Ship Smokestack Pollution

Dirty fuel pollutes port cities, undermine local clean air efforts


Sarah Burt, Earthjustice, (510) 550-6700


Teri Shore, Friends of the Earth, (415) 544-0790, ext. 19

Friends of the Earth, represented by lawyers from Earthjustice, is suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for failing to meet a deadline to regulate air pollution from large ships. EPA recently postponed indefinitely its commitment to set emissions standards for ship engines. The suit was filed today in federal district court.

Ocean-going vessels are among the largest mobile sources of air pollution in the world. Smokestack emissions from the global shipping fleet are projected to double in North America in the next decade, exposing communities to diesel exhaust that contributes to respiratory illness, cancer, heart disease, and premature death. The ships burn dirty, asphalt-like bunker fuel that is thousands of times dirtier than diesel used by trucks or trains, and most operate with engines that pre-date even weak international standards.

“Air quality in port cities like Seattle and Oakland takes a beating every time a large ship pulls into dock,” said Teri Shore of Friends of the Earth (formerly Bluewater Network) in San Francisco. “The Bush EPA promised to act months ago to rein in ship smokestack pollution, but instead they have delayed regulations. Port communities are fed up and suffering, that’s why we went to court today.”

“In Los Angeles alone, the ships in port spew more pollution than the metro area’s six million cars combined. Residents of nearby neighborhoods have high rates of respiratory illness and the region’s highest cancer risk. We’re taking action today to fix this health hazard,” said Sarah Burt of Earthjustice.

Just one cargo or cruise ship in port can pollute as much as 350,000 cars, and major ports receive hundreds of ship calls a month, yet the air pollution from large ships is one of the least addressed environmental justice issues facing port communities nationwide. In Seattle, Oakland, Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Houston, pollution blows into neighborhoods where respiratory illness has become common. In addition, EPA has failed to regulate pollution from foreign-flagged ships, which comprise more that 80 percent of port traffic from large ocean-going vessels, exempting them from meeting the air quality standards required by U.S. law.

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. EPA committed to the April 2007 deadline to regulate ocean-going vessel emissions in a 2003 Final Rule approved by the Washington, DC, Circuit Court of Appeals. This was in response to a previous lawsuit by Friends of the Earth and Earthjustice challenging lack of agency action on pollution from large ocean-going vessels.

So far, the agency has relied on weak international standards that provide no air quality benefits in U.S. waters, partly because many of the ships operating here are registered in foreign countries that are not party to the relevant international agreements. A review of international standards was recently delayed by nearly two years.

Senator Barbara Boxer recently introduced the Marine Vessel Emissions Act of 2007 (SB 1499) that would require cleaner fuels and engines in all ocean-going vessels calling on U.S. ports. Congresswoman Hilda L. Solis introduced the same legislation in the House of Representatives (HR 2548).

Learn more about marine diesel pollution.

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