Senate Committee Passes Bill to Regulate Ship Pollution

Bill would reduce air pollution from some of the country's largest pollution sources


Ben Dunham, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted today to regulate emissions from large ocean-going vessels, which are among the largest sources of air pollution in the United States.

“For too long, EPA has looked the other way as big ships — mostly foreign vessels — have delivered harmful emissions along with their cargo to our nation’s port cities. Overall air quality and people in these port communities have suffered as a result” said Ben Dunham, Associate Legislative Counsel for Earthjustice. He added, “Senator Boxer’s bill will clean up one of the biggest unregulated sources of pollution.”

The Marine Vessel Emissions Reduction Act of 2008 (S. 1499) would require cleaner fuels and engines in all ocean-going vessels calling on U.S. ports. Congresswoman Hilda L. Solis has introduced the same legislation in the House of Representatives (HR 2548).

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.

“Globally, the problem of ship air pollution is staggering, with over 60,000 premature deaths attributed to the use of high sulfur bunker fuel in ships,” said Danielle Fugere, Friends of the Earth’s West Coast Program Director. “Today’s action brings us closer to reducing pollution from what may be the last genuine Wild West industry on the planet.”

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 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 than 80 percent of port traffic from large ocean-going vessels, exempting them from meeting the air quality standards required by U.S. law.

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.

Earthjustice’s Ben Dunham added, “Once again, EPA has delayed putting forth regulations that would protect public health and the environment, while they fast track regulatory rollbacks requested by industry. Senator Boxer has stepped in with this bill to reduce air pollution where EPA has failed. She deserves thanks from every person who breathes the air in this country.” 

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