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06/14/2013, 12:31PM ET
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On Aug 01, 2012 04:17PM ET in Environmental Defense
Today marks the first day of a historic clean air measure to reduce harmful air emissions from ocean-going ships.
The first phase of standards for the North American Emission Control Area (ECA), which go into effect today, limit the sulfur level in fuel for large ocean-going ships to 10,000 parts per million within 200 nautical miles of U.S. coastlines.
It’s a step that Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) says is critical for protecting human health.
“The dangerous air pollution from these floating smokestacks is a threat to tens of millions of Americans who live and work along our coastlines,” said Elena Craft, EDF’s Health Scientist. “America has the ingenuity to meet these vitally important clean air standards and protect human health and the environment from the serious impacts associated with shipping pollution.”
Ocean-going ships are the largest ships on the water and include cruise ships, container ships, tankers, and bulk carriers. These large vessels travel all over the world, making international shipping a significant factor in U.S. port traffic and emissions. 90% of ship calls on U.S. ports are made by foreign-flagged vessels.
Until now, the large sea-going vessels that dock at more than 100 U.S. port cities burned low grade “residual fuel” or “bunker fuel,” which is a major source of air pollution. Residual fuel contains sulfur levels 1,800 times greater than U.S. law allows for other diesel engines (or about 27,000 parts per million of sulfur).
In 2010, the International Maritime Organization approved designation of the North American Emission Control Area (ECA). The standards guiding the ECA are contained in amendments to Annex VI of the International Maritime Organization’s MARPOL treaty, adopted in 2008.
The U.S. became party to the treaty through bipartisan support and ratification by Congress.
In the ECA, the sulfur content in fuel will be limited to 10,000 parts per million beginning today, and to 1,000 parts per million beginning in 2015. Within the ECA, ships must also achieve an 80 percent reduction in smog-forming oxides of nitrogen starting in 2016.
The ECA provides the strongest clean air standards available under international law. It slashes ozone-forming and particulate pollution from oceangoing vessels. The ECA will will save up to 14,000 lives a year by 2020, and save up to 30,000 lives a year by 2030.
The U.S. government, cruise lines, major shipping companies, health groups and environmental groups all participated in negotiations leading to the adoption of these important health protections.
At the eleventh hour, cruise lines began lobbying Congress and the Administration to relax these important health-protective standards.
“Timely implementation of the ECA standards, as they were adopted, is essential to realize the full suite of health protections offered by the program,” said Craft. “Any delay, weakening or exemption to these important clean air standards puts all Americans at risk.”