EPA Forces Ships to Clean Up


Cleaner fuel, less air pollution thanks to Earthjustice efforts


Sarah Burt, Earthjustice, (510) 550-6755

The EPA released a new rule that requires large ships registered in the US to reduce their air pollution. The new rule, signed by the head of EPA late last week, requires ships with large engines to switch over to cleaner low sulfur fuel and to meet stricter nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions standards. The new rule comes after ten years of litigation from Earthjustice seeking cleaner standards for large ships.

Earthjustice attorney Sarah Burt said, “Big cargo and tanker ships have been burning a very dirty, highly polluting form of fuel oil for many years which has caused widespread air pollution and health problems for people living near ports. For ten years Earthjustice has been working to get this source of pollution cleaned up and today EPA has taken a good step in the right direction.There is still more to be done to ensure that foreign ships comply with these new standards when in US waters, but at least we’re moving in the right direction by requiring US ships to burn cleaner fuel and reduce pollution.

The new rule requires more efficient use of engine technologies that will result in a 15 percent to 25 percent NOx reduction by 2011 and an 80 percent reduction by 2016.

EPA will generally forbid the production and sale of marine fuel oil with sulfur concentrations higher than 1,000 parts per million for use in most U.S. waters, unless the vessels employ alternative pollution control technologies that achieve the same reductions.

These standards will only apply to ships that are registered in the United States and will not apply to foreign ships that enter U.S. ports and territorial waters. Foreign ships make up approximately 90 percent of all ship traffic in US waters. EPA is relying on the International Maritime Organization to reduce pollution from foreign ships. The United States and Canada in March asked the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to designate thousands of miles of the countries’ coastlines as emission control areas, or ECAs. Under IMO rules, if the ECA request is granted, foreign ships entering the United States will ultimately be required to meet standards equivalent to those set by EPA in its current rulemaking.

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.

Read the rule.

Additional Resources

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people's health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.