IMO Adopts Ship Emission Rules; EPA to Move Forward

With the International Maritime Organization's (IMO) adoption of new emissions standards for large diesel ships and their fuels, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency now can begin its domestic rulemaking under the Clean Air Act. When fully implemented, this will help reduce harmful emissions by 80 percent or more from large diesel ships, including those that are foreign-flagged operating in U.S. waters.

"Massive reductions in air pollution from these large ships will help 87 million Americans living in areas around ports that don't meet air quality standards breathe cleaner air," said Margo T. Oge, director of the Office of Transportation and Air Quality. "Pollution emitted by ships along the U.S. coastlines and waterways can move inland where it worsens air quality."

As emissions decline from other transportation sources, ship emissions will become a larger part of the nation's pollution inventory. In 2001, oceangoing vessels contributed nearly 6 percent of nitrogen oxide (NOx), more than 10 percent of particulate matter (PM), and about 40 percent of sulfur dioxide (SOx) to the nation's air pollution from mobile sources. Without further controls, pollution will increase to about 34 percent of NOx, 45 percent of PM, and 94 percent of SOx emissions by 2030. Ocean-going vessels dock at more than 100 U.S. ports. Forty of these ports are in metropolitan areas that do not meet federal air quality standards.

Under the new IMO program, large ships that operate in emissions control areas (ECAs) will be subject to more stringent standards. EPA will work closely with its federal partners to submit an application to the IMO for ECA status for U.S. coastal areas. In ECAs, ships use fuel that contains no more than 1,000 parts per million (ppm) sulfur, a 98 percent cut from the current global cap. ECA standards will ultimately achieve reductions of NOx by 80 percent, PM by 85 percent, and SOx by 95 percent, relative to current emissions levels.

By 2020, ships will be required to use fuel with no more than 5,000 ppm sulfur, a 90 percent reduction from today's global cap. The engine standards will cut NOx emissions by 20 percent and will apply to new engines and to existing engines (as certified low-emission kits become available) beginning in 2011.

This new IMO program is contained in amendments to a treaty known as MARPOL Annex VI. These standards closely match last year's U.S. proposal to the IMO. The success at IMO is important to EPA's decade-long efforts to reduce diesel pollution.

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The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) praised the 168 member nations of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) for adopting the new emissions standards.

Ships are responsible for 3 percent of the global warming pollution worldwide, about as much global warming pollution as Canada emits, the EDF said. The recent action does not, however, address greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming pollution.

The group urges international action to address the heat-trapping emissions from these large ships.

A report by Environmental Defense Fund, "Floating Smokestacks: A Call for Action to Clean Up Marine Shipping Pollution," shows that these large ships – including cruise ships and container ships – release dangerous diesel pollution that is a public health threat to millions of Americans living and working in port and coastal communities, including Houston and Los Angeles.

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 has an average fuel sulfur level of 2.7 percent, which is approximately 1,800 times the sulfur content of the U.S. diesel fuel standards for other major diesel engines.

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