EPA, Coast Guard Agree to Enforce Air Pollution Requirements for Vessels Operating in U.S. Waters

EPA and the U.S. Coast Guard announced an agreement to jointly enforce U.S. and international air pollution requirements for vessels operating in U.S. waters. The requirements establish limits on nitrogen oxides emissions and require the use of fuel with lower sulfur content, protecting people’s health and the environment by reducing ozone-producing pollution, which can cause smog and aggravate asthma. The most stringent requirements apply to ships operating within 200 nautical miles of the coast of North America.

“Today’s agreement forges a strong partnership between EPA and the U.S. Coast Guard, advancing our shared commitment to enforce air emissions standards for ships operating in U.S. waters,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Reducing harmful air pollution is a priority for EPA and by working with the Coast Guard we will ensure that the ships moving through our waters meet their environmental obligations, protecting our nation’s air quality and the health of our coastal communities.”

"This agreement demonstrates the Coast Guard's long-standing commitment to protecting our nation's marine environment," said Rear Adm. Kevin Cook, director of Prevention Policy for the U.S. Coast Guard. "Aligning our capabilities with EPA enhances our commitment to the marine environment while minimizing the impact on shipping."

The large marine diesel engines that provide propulsion and auxiliary power on many ocean-going vessels emit significant amounts of pollution. Without further action, EPA estimates that by 2030, nitrogen oxide emissions from ships will more than double, growing to 2.1 million tons per year. The memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed by EPA and the USCG outlines the agencies’ commitment to jointly enforce federal and international laws that EPA projects could prevent 12,000-31,000 premature deaths annually by 2030. Under the MOU, both the USCG and EPA will perform inspections and investigations, and will take appropriate enforcement actions if a violation is detected.

A letter to industry was also signed today by USCG and EPA to provide the regulated community with notice that USCG and EPA will be taking measures to promote compliance with federal and international air pollution requirements and will be actively pursuing violations.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is a United Nations agency which deals with maritime safety, security and the prevention of marine pollution from ships across the globe. The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), developed through the IMO, is the main international convention covering prevention of pollution of the marine environment by ships. MARPOL Annex VI addresses air pollution from ships through the use of both engine-based and fuel-based standards. Additionally, MARPOL Annex VI requires ships operated in designated geographical areas, known as emission control areas or ECAs, to meet the most advanced standards for nitrogen oxide emissions and fuel sulfur limits. The United States became a party to MARPOL Annex VI in 2008 and the treaty is implemented in the United States through the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships.

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