In New Year, Cleaner Fuel Offshore Means Cleaner Air Onshore

Source: flickr/kestrana

Source: flickr/kestrana

Hilary Sinnamon, clean air and transportation consultant, contributed to this post. 

A key component of one of the most significant health protection measures adopted in the past several years will take effect in the New Year – and Texas is positioned to reap significant benefits.

Large ocean-going ships, like container vessels, tankers, and cruise ships are often called floating smokestacks because they have historically burned fuel hundreds to thousands of times dirtier than all other mobile sources, including cars, trucks, trains and construction equipment. That’s why the North American Emissions Control Area (ECA), approved by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in 2010, requires these vessels to reduce harmful emissions by switching to cleaner fuels when transiting within 200 nautical miles of U.S. and Canadian coastlines. This means healthier air for communities across Texas and the rest of the country, as these measures are estimated to reduce millions of pounds of harmful air pollutants and save tens of thousands of lives.

The ECA went into effect in 2012, requiring ships to begin using modestly cleaner fuels. Switching from higher-sulfur fuel to cleaner, lower-sulfur fuel means lower levels of harmful emissions from ships, such as sulfur oxides (SOx) and particulate matter (PM), which contribute to poor air quality across the nation. These pollutants are also associated with adverse respiratory effects and are a threat to public health.

The next phase of the cleaner fuel standards begin on January 1st, 2015, when ships that enter North American waters will be required to burn even cleaner fuel – with a sulfur content limit ten times cleaner than today’s standard. Alternatively, vessels can install pollution control technology to make equivalent reductions in harmful sulfur dioxide. EPA estimates that these standards will result in more than 30,000 lives saved by 2030.

The third and last phase of the fuel standards begins in 2016, when the same ships will install technologies to reduce smog-forming nitrogen oxides (NOx) to achieve even greater health protections. Communities across the US are depending on the pollution reductions that will result from the timely implementation of these critical standards – which are estimated to reduce NOx in the US by 1.2 million tons annually by 2030.

Texas, as a major freight hub with significant ocean vessel activity, is one of the many states that will see air quality benefits from the ECA fuel standards. Ports along the Texas Gulf Coast handle significant ship traffic – more than 8,000 vessels move through the Port of Houston each year – and the cleaner fuel means a direct reduction in emissions released close to communities. The ECA is particularly important in that it will help many regions in the state, including Houston-Galveston-Brazoria and Dallas-Fort Worth, meet national health-based air quality standards.

EDF has been a longtime advocate for the North American ECA, and many of our partners, including the Port of Houston Authority and the Houston-Galveston Area Council, have supported the effort as well. EDF welcomes the stronger air quality and public health standards for the maritime sector. It’s great to start the New Year off on the right clean air foot!

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