U.S. and Canada Propose Pollution Control Zones for Ports

By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The United States and Canada plan to establish new air pollution control zones for ports along their coasts to force domestic and foreign ships alike to curb emissions linked to thousands of illnesses and premature deaths each year.

The restrictions announced yesterday, which the Environmental Protection Agency outlined in a request Friday to the International Maritime Organization, would require tankers, cruise ships, cargo ships and other large vessels to use low-sulfur fuel or new technology to ensure that they emit less sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and soot while within 200 nautical miles of the lower 48 states. The rules also would apply to Anchorage as well as the seven populated Hawaiian islands and the uninhabited Kahoolawe nature preserve.

The EPA said the "emissions control area" would save as many as 8,300 American and Canadian lives every year by 2020 and protect Americans living as far inland as Kansas. A report by a coalition of groups including the American Lung Association, the Environmental Defense Fund, the National Association of Clean Air Agencies and the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency said that more than 87 million Americans live in port areas that do not meet federal air quality standards. The proposed rules would apply to Baltimore and to Virginia's Newport News-Norfolk harbors, among others.

"This is an important -- and long overdue -- step in our efforts to protect the air and water along our shores, and the health of the people in our coastal communities," EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said at a news conference in Port Newark, N.J., with Coast Guard and state officials.

The International Maritime Organization -- a U.N. body that oversees air pollution and other policies for oceangoing vessels -- approved the concept of emission control areas in October. Under the proposal, ships must use fuel with no more than 1,000 parts per million of sulfur beginning in 2015, and as of 2016, new ships must use advanced pollution controls. Compared with current rules, the restrictions, which could be approved as early as next year, would cut allowable levels of sulfur in fuel by 98 percent, soot by 85 percent and nitrogen oxide pollution by 80 percent from current rules.

The tighter standards would impose new costs on shipping, but industry, public health and environmental groups said the policy change is justified. "It will be costly, but it's doable," said Christopher L. Koch, president of the World Shipping Council. "We know this issue of vessel emissions needed an effective international response."

Joe Angelo, deputy managing director of the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners, said his group has pushed for a worldwide switch to low-sulfur marine diesel fuel because it sees it as essential for the environment. But he added that he hopes the EPA will push the refinery industry to ensure that "refineries are producing sufficient amounts" of the cleaner fuel to make the rules work.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company