Report Urges IMO to Enact Big Ship Standards

Large ocean-going ships – such as cruise ships and container ships – in Houston and other U.S. ports, are big pollution emitters, releasing dangerous diesel pollution that threatens people living and working in coastal areas, according to "Floating Smokestacks: A Call for Action to Clean Up Marine Shipping Pollution."

Released Oct. 3, the Environmental Defense Fund report recommends protective policy action by the International Maritime Organization. This international body will decide on standards that could require cleaner engines, pollution control technologies, and cleaner fuel.

Ocean-going ships are powered by large high-emitting diesel engines that run on an extremely dirty grade of fuel, called bunker fuel or residual fuel. It contains approximately 1,800 times the sulfur content of the U.S. diesel fuel standards for other major diesel engines.

The report found that ocean-going ships in the Houston/Galveston area annually emit about 5,600 tons of smog-forming nitrogen oxide (NOx) and 590 tons of harmful particulate matter pollution (PM 2.5); the NOx emissions are comparable to the pollution from more than 6 million new cars. Federal regulators recently reclassified Houston's smog problem as "severe," a designation held by only one other city in the nation:  Los Angeles.

"Unfortunately, Houston is hard hit by some of the most unhealthy smog levels in the nation," said Elena Craft, an air quality specialist in EDF's Houston office. "Strong international action can have significant local clean air benefits. Cleaning up pollution from these 'floating smokestacks,' in addition to the Port of Houston implementing a comprehensive clean air plan, is an important step toward restoring healthy air in our community."

The new report analyzed the latest available data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (2001) and found that large ocean-going ships in the United States emitted:

•Approximately 54,000 tons of harmful particulate matter pollution, equivalent to the emissions from about 117 coal-fired power plants;

•Approximately 745,000 tons of smog-forming nitrogen oxides, equivalent to the NOx emissions from 94 coal-fired power plants;

•Nearly 40 percent of all sulfur dioxide emitted by the transportation sector; sulfur dioxide can transform into harmful fine particles and can also fall back to Earth as acid rain.

•Ocean-going ships are responsible for about 3 percent of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions that cause climate change.

Currently, ocean-going vessels are subject only to weak international emissions standards. The clean air standards that apply to these high-polluting engines have lagged behind other major source categories in the transportation sector. Without strong regulations, pollution from these high-emitting engines will increase.

To download the report, visit http://www.edf.org/documents/8619_FloatingSmokestacks_report.pdf .

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