The proposal would limit air emissions from ships in the United States' exclusive economic zone, which extends 200 nautical miles from its coasts. This includes the 133 American and Canadian "Lakers" that spend their whole lives in the Great Lakes or St. Lawrence Seaway and the smaller "Salties" that go between foreign and Great Lakes ports.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing regulation to force vessels to burn cleaner fuel and upgrade their engines. Emissions from these ships are the only mode of transportation not under new federal air pollution regulations. These emission have been linked to increased levels of heart and lung disease, particularly in Great Lakes states. EPA estimates the proposal will produce more health benefits than those it has applied to off-road vehicles, diesel trucks and other sources. Without further regulation by 2030, the agency projects that smog-forming nitrogen oxide emissions from the ships will more than double, to 2.1 million tons a year. It is being estimated that the new standards, proposed in July and set to be finalized by Dec. 17, would prevent up to 33,000 premature deaths a year from problems such as heart disease, respiratory illness and cancer.
The agency wants to require vessels to switch by 2015 from viscous bunker fuel, which contains about 30,000 parts per million sulfur, to fuel that contains no more than 1,000 parts per million. Trucks are required to use fuel with no more than 15 ppm sulfur, and by 2015 locomotives, bulldozers and barges will have similar limits.
Great Lakes shipping industry officials say the cost of the new fuel and the engine overhauls needed to burn it would undermine their competitive edge and shift commodity transport to rail and truck. The Lake Carriers' Association believes the rule would cost U.S. and Canadian ships an extra $210 million a year for fuel. Out of a U.S. fleet of 65, they predict that 13 steamships with 429 mariners would be scrapped and that 13 ships with old diesel engines might face premature retirement.
Currently, some in Congress are considering the prospect of attaching language to the annual Interior and Environmental Appropriations Bill that could halt implementation of the rule and have delayed moving the bill as they seek to influence EPA. (Wash Post, 10/23/09)
More information: EPA Oceangoing Vessels