Landmark regulations to reduce air pollution from ships in North American waters go into effect

Landmark regulations to reduce air pollution from ships in North American waters go into effect

WASHINGTON, D.C. — An Emission Control Area to reduce air pollution from ships in the waters around North America goes into effect today, two years after the International Maritime Organization approved an application from the U.S. and Canada to create this lower pollution zone. The rule’s measures will prevent tons of harmful pollutants from entering the atmosphere from ships’ smokestacks. Many of these air pollutants, like particulates and smog-forming compounds, significantly impact the health of coastal communities and can travel hundreds of miles inland as well. The EPA estimates that implementing the Emission Control Area will prevent between 12,000 and 31,000 premature deaths each year across the U.S. and save billions of dollars in health care costs by 2030.

The ECA designation brings the ocean waters of North America into an international control program, which reduces the emissions of nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides and particulate matter from ships within 200 nautical miles of the coasts of the U.S. and Canada. The ECA requires ships to use fuel with a sulfur content of 1.0 percent or less, or utilize equally effective means, to reduce harmful air emissions with even more stringent, cleaner fuel requirements beginning in 2015.

Currently, most large ships burn bunker fuel — one of the dirtiest fuels on the planet, thousands of times dirtier than diesel truck fuel. Bunker fuel emissions from ships significantly impact our air quality, not just along the coast or at port but for hundreds of miles inland. When bunker fuel is spilled it is almost impossible to clean up and has extremely destructive effects on our oceans and the marine life that depends on those waters.

“With the implementation of the North American Emission Control Area, large ships will no longer be allowed to recklessly pollute our air, destroy coastal habitats and harm the health of our communities,” said John Kaltenstein, marine program manager at Friends of the Earth U.S. “Friends of the Earth has been working for more than a decade to end deadly and unregulated pollution from the shipping industry, one of the last industries to be brought under pollution control laws.”

“Every dollar invested in cleaner ships avoids more than $30 in health costs, thanks to reduced asthma, cancer and heart disease,” said Rich Kassel, a consultant to the Natural Resources Defense Council and a member of the U.S. delegation that secured the ECA. “With economic and public health benefits like these, it’s easy to see why there has been broad bi-partisan support for creating the Emission Control Area.”

Yet even in the face of progress, the cruise industry is working to water down the ECA, lobbying Congress and the Obama administration to put in place measures that would allow it to bypass the ECA’s protective rules. The cruise industry claims that it will have to avoid North American waters if the ECA’s standards go into effect, citing increasing costs due to the switch to less polluting fuel and replacing ship equipment to accommodate that fuel. The industry’s recent efforts include attempts to amend the ECA to exempt cruise ships from the cleaner fuel requirements in less populated areas like Alaska and Hawaii. If the industry’s efforts are successful, it will significantly increase risks for asthma and other air pollution related diseases.

“The shipping industry, including the cruise lines, fully participated in the IMO’s five years of deliberations on the treaty amendments that included the current ECA protections and the adoption of the North American ECA itself,” observed David Marshall, Senior Counsel with the Clean Air Task Force and a participant in those negotiations. “The cruise line industry has had several years to prepare for its requirements, but instead is mounting an 11th hour effort to convince Congress and EPA to adopt proposals that would violate the international treaty that the United Stated has ratified and is bound by.”

Friends of the Earth, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Clean Air Task Force are calling on the EPA and the entire Obama administration to stand firm in their support of the Emission Control Area and resist any attempts by shipping industry polluters to weaken the clean air and economic benefits it will have for our communities.


Kelly Trout, (202) 222-0722, [email protected]; Marcie Keever, (510) 900-3144, [email protected];
Rich Kassel, (646) 783-4090, [email protected];
David Marshall, (603) 568-2968, [email protected]

EPA Fact Sheet: Designation of North American Emission Control Area to Reduce Emissions from Ships
Letter to IMO from EPA and U.S Coast Guard regarding equivalent methods to comply with the ECA fuel sulfur requirements


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