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U.S., Canada Seek to Control Air Emissions from Ships
PORT NEWARK, New Jersey, March 30, 2009 (ENS) - The United States and Canada have moved to protect North American residents from harmful ship emissions by becoming the first two countries to ask the International Maritime Organization to create an emissions control area around their coastlines extending out 200 miles (300 kilometers).

U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced the move at a joint news conference with the U.S. Coast Guard and New Jersey elected officials at Port Newark.

"This is an important, and long overdue, step in our efforts to protect the air and water along our shores, and the health of the people in our coastal communities," said Jackson. "We want to ensure the economic strength of our port cities at the same time that we take responsible steps to protect public health and the environment in the United States and across the globe."

The United States submitted a joint proposal with Canada on March 27 to designate most areas of the coastal waters covered by their Exclusive Economic Zones for the control of nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides, and particulate matter emissions.

The EPA led the U.S. effort to develop the proposal in coordination with federal partners such as the Coast Guard, State Department and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Canada joined the U.S. as a co-proposer on the proposal, advancing a strategy for a coordinated geographic emissions control program.

Cargo ship leaves Vancouver Harbor on Canada's West Coast emitting air pollutants. (Photo by Richard Copley)

President George W. Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper agreed on this approach at their March 2006 Security and Prosperity Partnership meeting. The EPA says that while the two countries' mutual goals could be met with individual applications, a joint application will be received more favorably at the International Maritime Organization.

The IMO, a United Nations agency, will begin reviewing the proposal in July. A decision could be issued next year.

The proposed emissions control area includes waters adjacent to the Pacific coast, the Atlantic/Gulf coast and the main Hawaiian Islands. Not included are the Pacific U.S. territories, smaller Hawaiian Islands, the Aleutian Islands and Western Alaska, the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the U.S. and Canadian Arctic, but they could be included in the future after assessments are done.

The U.S. and Canada typically see over 93,000 vessel calls at their ports annually. In addition, many more vessels operate in the proposed ECA that do not call on U.S. or Canadian ports, but instead are en route to Mexico or South America.

The two countries have a combined population in excess of 330 million, over half of whom reside along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts and in port cities such as Vancouver, Los Angeles, Miami and New York.

Because ship pollution travels great distances, much of the inland population also is affected by ship emissions and will benefit from the cleaner air made possible by ECA fuel and engine controls, the IMO application states.

The creation of an ECA would save up to 8,300 American and Canadian lives every year by 2020 and avoid some 3.4 million instances of respiratory ailments, such as asthma, according to an analysis the two countries conducted for this application that quantified the human health risk and environmental degradation posed by air emissions from ships operating in U.S. and Canadian ports and off their coasts.

"Adoption of this ECA would help reduce the stresses on a large number of sensitive ecosystems, including numerous forests, grasslands, alpine areas, wetlands, rivers, lakes, estuaries, and coastal waters," the application states.

The economic impacts of complying with the ECA program are expected to be modest. Analysis of a ship in liner service between Singapore, Seattle, and Los Angeles/Long Beach suggests that improving from current performance to ECA standards would increase the cost of shipping a twenty-foot-equivalent container by about US$18. Overall, operating costs for a ship in such a route, which includes about 1,700 nautical miles of operation in the proposed ECA, would increase by about three percent.

The two governments estimate the total costs of improving ship emissions from current performance to emissions control area standards will be US$3.2 billion in 2020.

Steamship Alpena of Inland Lakes Management, Inc. departs Milwaukee, Wisconsin on Lake Michigan. July 30, 2007. (Photo by David Fascules)

Air pollution from ships is expected to grow rapidly as controls on other mobile sources take effect and port traffic increases. Ocean-going vessels, primarily foreign owned and operated, dock at more than 100 U.S. ports, more than 40 of which are in metropolitan areas that fail to meet federal air quality standards.

Now, most large ships such as oil tankers and cargo ships burn dirty bunker fuel to generate power. Emissions control standards will require sulfur in the fuel to be reduced by 98 percent, particulate matter emissions by 85 percent, and nitrogen oxide emissions by 80 percent from the current global requirements.

To achieve these reductions, ships must use fuel with no more than 1,000 parts per million sulfur beginning in 2015, and new ships must used advanced emission control technologies beginning in 2016.

U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat who chairs the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, said, "We have known for a long time that our families that live around ports have a higher rate of respiratory illness and cancer. EPA’s announcement today is music to my ears because it means the United States is stepping forward to take a strong leadership role on clean air around ports."

"Ships have escaped stringent regulation, while landside emission sources such as trucks have faced increasingly strict controls," said John Kaltenstein, clean vessels campaign manager at Friends of the Earth.

"Large ships in the United States were responsible for over a million tons of pollutants in 2007 and, if no changes are made, will produce nearly four million tons of air pollution in 2030," he said. "The protections proposed today are absolutely crucial to protect millions of residents against debilitating illnesses and premature death."

"This joint request is an important signal of cooperation between Canada and the United States in the interest of protecting public health and the environment from shipping emissions, said Beatrice Olivastri, chief executive of Friends of the Earth Canada. "However, it is a starting point - not an end point."

"Ships are currently burning fuel 1,800 times dirtier than diesel trucks and the emission control area would achieve a sulphur reduction to 0.1 percent - still 66 times dirtier than ultra low diesel," said Olivastri.

Click here to read the full application submitted by the U.S. and Canada to the International Maritime Organization.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.

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