Ships in U.S., Canadian waters to face stricter pollution controls

By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 29, 2010

To curb air pollution, large tankers, container ships and cruise boats will have to use low-sulfur fuels when passing through U.S. and Canadian coastal waters, under a proposal adopted by a United Nations rulemaking body Friday.

Vessels traveling within 200 nautical miles of most of the two nations' coasts will have to cut their fuel sulfur content by 98 percent. The rules approved by the International Maritime Organization will be phased in from 2012, and new ships will have to use advanced pollution-control technology beginning in 2016.

The proposal will save 14,000 lives in the United States and Canada when fully implemented, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, and by 2020 will provide relief to 5 million people who suffer illnesses linked to poor air quality.

"This is a change that will benefit millions of people and set in motion new innovations for the shipping industry," EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said in a statement.

Rich Kassel, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, "Communities up and down the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf coasts will feel the air-quality improvements -- and the benefits will even extend hundreds of miles inland, reaching as far away as Nevada, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and the Grand Canyon."

Although the cruise industry had opposed the plan for months, it did not object to the standards in Friday's vote at the IMO headquarters in London. Ramón Alvarez, a senior scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund, said only a small number of ships have switched to the low-sulfur fuel voluntarily because it's twice as expensive.

More than 30 U.S. ports are in metropolitan areas that fail to meet federal air-quality standards.

"It will mean higher operating costs, but we believe the trade-off is to successfully address the problems U.S. port communities have faced," said Chris Koch, president of the World Shipping Council.

S. William Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, said the vote "demonstrates how effective the international community can be at solving a major health and environmental problem."

The United States and Canada jointly made the proposal a year ago. The United States recently imposed these standards on its own ships, but 88 percent of ships entering American ports fly under foreign flags.

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