Fresh air

Federal Representatives Introduce Legislation Requiring EPA to Cut Ship Emissions

By Tonia Reyes Uranga

Tom Politeo/Harbor Vision Task Force

Community members listen to testimony at Sen. Barbara Boxer’s field hearing on marine vessels. Face masks spelled out “asthma”, “toxic”, “justice” and “help.”

September 2007

Protester photo galleryAudience photo gallery

Ocean-going vessels—including tugboats, tankers, cargo ships and cruise ships—are big contributors to air pollution in Southern California and other port areas. Now California’s senators and a key Congresswoman have joined forces and introduced landmark legislation that would require the federal government to adopt tougher pollution controls for ocean-going vessels. 

On May 24, U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein along with U.S. Rep. Hilda Solis introduced legislation that is critical to achieving health-based air quality standards in the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

The Marine Vessel Emissions Reduction Act of 2007 is broadly supported by several Southland elected officials and agencies, including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster, who testified at the field hearing in San Pedro in August.

The new legislation would require the Environmental Protection Agency to take two actions.

First, sharply reduce the sulfur content of fuel used by domestic and foreign ocean-going ships calling at U.S. ports and marine terminals from 27,000 parts per million (ppm) to a maximum of 1,000 ppm beginning Dec. 31, 2010.  Ships calling on West Coast ports would have to use the low-sulfur fuel within 200 miles of the West Coast.

Second, Set standards effective Jan. 1, 2012 requiring the maximum degree of emission reductions achievable in new and existing engines for all domestic and foreign ocean-going ships calling on U.S. ports.

Despite a 1990 federal Clean Air Act mandate to adopt “maximum feasible controls” for ships and other off-road pollution sources, the EPA to date has not adopted any significant emission control measures for ocean-going ships.  

In April, the EPA announced that it would delay until December 2009 the adoption of new regulations for such ships.  There is no assurance that the rules will be adopted by then and if they are, whether they will be strict enough to significantly reduce air pollution in the Southland

Ships are a major source of sulfur oxide emissions because they burn bunker fuel, one of the world’s dirtiest fuels that contains on average 27,000 ppm of sulfur.  

In comparison, diesel fuel used by heavy-duty trucks in the U.S. can contain no more than 15 ppm sulfur.  Last year, the South Coast Air Quality Management District gave a Clean Air Award to Danish shipping company Maersk Inc., for switching to low-sulfur fuel in all of its ships, demonstrating that cleaner methods are available today.

Ships calling on the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are responsible for more than 30 tons per day of sulfur oxide emissions--roughly half of the total emitted by all sources in the region.  

Sulfur oxide emissions contribute to the formation of fine-particulate pollution (PM2.5) that contributes to more than 30 diseases including heart attacks, asthma and lung cancer. Southern California cannot achieve the federal health-based standard for PM2.5 by a federally mandated 2015 deadline unless sulfur emissions from ships are greatly reduced.

Ships also are a major source of smog- and particulate-forming nitrogen oxides, as well as diesel particulate matter, a toxic air contaminant.  Due to the lack of current regulations, ships are virtually the only pollution source whose emissions are projected to increase in the future.  

If rules are not adopted, nitrogen oxide emissions from ships in the region are projected to grow from about 48 tons per day in 2005 to about 90 tons per day in 2020.

Public interest in the hearing was encouraging, but activists and environmental groups—and individuals like you—need to show their support as this proposed legislation makes its way to the White House for the President’s signature. 

Contact me at (562) 570-6139 or if you have questions or comments regarding the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s efforts to clean the air we breathe. The district is the air pollution control agency for Orange County and major portions of Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside counties; its governing board adopts policies and regulations that promote clean air within its four-county area, the smoggiest in the nation.

Also, I want to thank the Sierra Club’s Harbor Vision Task Force and particularly its co-chairs Tom Politeo and Jesse Marquez for organizing the impressive public participation for Sen. Barbara Boxer’s field hearing on Aug. 9 at the Port of Los Angeles.  The significance of community support for the Marine Vessels Emissions Reduction Act of 2007 cannot be ignored as this vital legislation works its way through Congress.

Tonia Reyes Uranga  is a member of  the Long Beach City Council and the South Coast Air Quality Management District Governing Board.

Tom Politeo/Harbor Vision Task Force

Community members listen to testimony at Sen. Barbara Boxer’s field hearing on marine vessels. Face masks spelled out “asthma”, “toxic”, “justice” and “help.”