Today is a big day for clean air; it marks the first day of a historic clean air measure to reduce harmful air emissions from ocean-going ships.
In 2010, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) approved designation of the North American Emission Control Area (ECA). The standards guiding the ECA are contained in amendments to Annex VI of the IMO’s MARPOL treaty, adopted in 2008. The U.S. became party to the treaty through bipartisan support and ratification by Congress.
Within 200 nautical miles of U.S. coastlines, large ocean-going ships must use cleaner fuels and reduce smog-forming oxides of nitrogen. In the ECA, the sulfur content in fuel will be limited to 10,000 parts per million (ppm) beginning today, and 1,000 ppm in 2015. Within the ECA, ships must also achieve an 80 percent reduction in smog-forming oxides of nitrogen (NOx) starting in 2016.
This ECA provides the strongest clean air standards available under international law, slashing ozone-forming and particulate pollution from oceangoing vessels and saving up to 14,000 lives a year by 2020 and 30,000 lives by 2030.
The dangerous air pollution from these floating smokestacks is a threat to tens of millions of Americans who live and work along our coastlines. America has the ingenuity to meet these vitally important clean air standards and protect human health and the environment from the serious impacts associated with shipping pollution.
The U.S. government, cruise lines, major shipping companies, health groups and environmental groups all participated in negotiations leading to the adoption of these important health protections. In Texas, the City of Houston, Harris County, Port of Houston Authority, Texas Ports Association, American Association of Port Authorities, and the Houston Galveston Area Council all wrote support letters for adoption of the ECA.
Ocean-going ships are the largest ships on the water and include cruise ships, container ships, tankers, and bulk carriers. These large vessels travel all over the world, making international shipping a significant factor in U.S. port traffic and emissions – 90 percent of ship calls on U.S. ports are made by foreign-flagged vessels.
The large sea-going vessels that dock at more than 100 U.S. port cities currently burn low grade “residual fuel” or “bunker fuel” that is a major source of air pollution. This residual fuel contains sulfur levels 1,800 times greater than U.S. law allows for other diesel engines (about 27,000 parts per million (ppm) of sulfur).
At the eleventh hour, Cruise lines lobbied Congress and the Administration to relax these important health-protective standards. Timely implementation of the ECA standards, as they were adopted, is essential to realize the full suite of health protections offered by the program. Any delay, weakening or exemption to these important clean air standards puts Americans at risk.