Last week, Earthjustice and Friends of the Earth warned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that the organizations will sue the agency for failing to meet an April 27 deadline to regulate air pollution from large ships. EPA recently postponed by 18 months its commitment to set standards for ship engines, until December 2009. (Read the 60-day notice – PDF)
Ocean-going vessels are one of the largest mobile sources of air pollution in the world, generating 18 to 30 percent of global nitrogen oxide emissions that contribute to smog and 16 percent of sulfur oxide emissions from petroleum sources.
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.
“The diesel death zones around port and coastal communities continue to expand with no relief,” said Teri Shore of Friends of the Earth (formerly Bluewater Network) in San Francisco. “With this last delay, Bush’s EPA has shredded any hope that ship smokestacks bringing cargo to our nation’s ports will be forced to clean up any time soon.”
“The EPA would like to ignore its own commitments to finally address the ship pollution problem,” said Sarah Burt of Earthjustice. “EPA’s cavalier approach to the Clean Air Act is forcing polluted communities to take this issue to the courts.”
Just one ship pulling into port can pollute as much as 350,000 cars and major ports receive hundreds of ship calls a month. The air pollution from large ships is one of the least addressed environmental justice issues facing port communities nationwide. In Oakland, Los Angeles, Long Beach, Houston, and New Orleans pollution blows over neighborhoods where respiratory illness has become common.
EPA committed to the 2007 deadline to regulate ocean-going vessel emissions in a 2003 Final Rule approved by the Washington, DC Circuit Court of Appeals in response to a previous lawsuit by Friends of the Earth and Earthjustice challenging lack of agency action on smokestack pollution. 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.
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. Foreign-flagged ships operated by U.S. and other companies make more than 80 percent of port calls by ocean-going vessels. A review of international standards was recently delayed by nearly two years.
To attempt to address these failings, Senator Barbara Boxer recently introduced the Marine Vessel Emissions Act of 2007 (SB1499) 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 (HR2548).
Learn more about marine diesel pollution.