When the Environmental Protection Agency last week declared an offshore zone to control air pollution from ocean shipping, it was one of those rare occasions when everyone from the American Lung Association to the World Shipping Council agreed it was the right thing to do.
The EPA said it would propose an “emission control area” of 230 nautical miles from the U.S. coast in all directions under terms of Annex VI of the International Maritime Organization’s International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships of 1973.
The boundary will mark where ships must switch from high- to low-sulfur fuels. The cleaner fuels will reduce sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter in the air by more than 80 percent in ports and surrounding cities, the EPA estimates.
Inside the zone, the IMO standard calls for reducing the amount of sulfur in the fuel ships burn, with no more than 1,000 parts per million beginning in 2015. New ships by that year also would have to be equipped with emission-control technologies to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 80 percent. The EPA said the standards will improve air quality as far inland as Kansas City.
For carriers, the IMO standard means there’s less chance states will establish their own air emission standards. If the standards were left to each state, carriers feared a hodgepodge of regulations that would make compliance nearly impossible.
“There’s more clarity coming. We’re big proponents of the international approach,” said T.L. Garrett, vice president of the Pacific Maritime Shipping Association, which represents carriers and terminal operators in the Pacific trades. “It’s been a long time coming. We want to establish this uniform regulatory scheme and get away from the patchwork approach.”
A patchwork was a real concern for West Coast carriers. The California Air Resources Board established a 24-mile offshore zone, and set deadlines for sulfur content in fuel.
The emission control area “does make CARB happy,” Garrett said. “They acknowledged they preferred an international approach, and the ECA achieves the same fuel standards.” He said CARB would phase out its requirements when the EPA standard takes effect.
The EPA and CARB standards, which will cost the shipping industry about $3.2 billion, still have differences in timing. Under the IMO standards, for example, vessels in emission control areas must burn fuel with no more than 0.1 percent sulfur by January 2015. Under CARB’s regulations, the same sulfur content must be reached by January 2012. The EPA estimates the added cost per container will be about $18.
“We’re all going to the same point. The only debate now is how soon do we get there,” Garrett said.
CARB also is proceeding with “cold-ironing” regulations whereby ships in port must shut off their main engines and rely on power drawn from shore.
“That’s going to require a tremendous investment in shore-side infrastructure and retrofitting of vessels to comply with that regulation,” Garrett said.
California also is considering regulating vessel speed. A 10-knot reduction in vessel speed could reduce fuel consumption exponentially.
“The downside is shipping is a service industry. These guys have to maintain a schedule,” Garrett said. “They may slow down coming in and out of California to comply with the regulation, but to maintain schedule, they’ll speed up someplace else. If they speed up half a knot somewhere else in their transit cycle, they’ll wipe out the benefits of the slowdown in California waters.”
The EPA will present its proposal to the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee in London in July. Barring unexpected delays, the U.S. emission zone would take effect in late 2012, said Bryan Wood-Thomas, vice president for environmental policy at the World Shipping Council.
While the U.S. proposal will be the first since Annex VI took effect last year, other nations have established the Baltic Sea and the North Sea as areas where ships must burn low-sulfur fuels. The EPA’s announcement was the result of work that started in 2003.
CARB’s regulatory efforts alone will not disrupt trade, but California has taken an aggressive stand on other environmental issues that affect the maritime industry. The cumulative effect of all regulations could result in shifts in the supply chain.
Contact R.G. Edmonson at email@example.com.