The California Air Resources Board is extending the zone in which vessel operators in Southern California must burn low-sulfur fuel, a move that satisfies U.S. Navy concerns about ship traffic while raising costs for vessel operations.
At a meeting Thursday, CARB extended the clean-bunker fuel zone from the current 24 miles to 40 nautical miles, which will push vessel traffic away from the Navy’s test zone. That means vessel operators will have to burn the more expensive low-sulfur fuel over a greater distance.
CARB two years ago established the zone off the coast to reduce diesel pollution in Southern California. In an attempt to avoid that zone and save money, some vessel operators have been taking an alternative route to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
That route crosses a zone in which the Navy conducts missile, aircraft and submarine tests. The Navy objected, citing safety concerns as well as increased costs the military incurs when tests are delayed due to commercial vessel traffic.
Vessel operators worldwide will eventually have to burn low-sulfur fuel under regulations that will be phased in by the International Maritime Organization. California’s timetable is more aggressive than the IMO schedule.
Shipping lines, represented by the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, have challenged CARB’s low-sulfur requirements, charging federal law limits state regulation of vessel traffic to a three-nautical mile zone. PMSA has lost challenges federal courts and is considering its next move, said T.L. Garrett, PMSA vice president.
The situation becomes even more confusing because, under an IMO provision involving all of North America, vessel operators beginning Aug. 1, 2012, must burn clean fuel with a sulfur content of 1 percent within 200 nautical miles of the coast.
The North America Emissions Control Area, as it is known, will enter a second phase on Jan. 1, 2015, in which the sulfur content of bunker fuel must be reduced to 0.1 percent.
CARB's regulations will be enforced in tandem with the new ECA requirement beginning in August 2012, Garrett said.