EPA Holds Hearing On New Marine Diesel Rules

Recently, the EPA has taken a number of positive steps towards reducing toxic air pollution from ships that call at U.S. ports.  In 2008, EPA enacted regulations covering certain marine diesel engines.  Earlier this year, EPA submitted a very far-sighted proposal to the International Maritime Organization to control diesel emissions from oceangoing vessels, both U.S. and foreign-flagged.  

On August 6, 2009, EPA held a public hearing in Long Beach, California to take testimony on a proposed new rule for marine diesel engines.  My colleague Rich Kassel attended a similar hearing in New York and blogged about it here.  In brief, the proposed new rule would require all new engines in U.S.-flagged vessels to use relatively clean marine diesel fuel by 2016.  

This rule is needed in case EPA's proposal to the IMO is delayed or weakened.  A voluntary clean fuel program in the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports has not worked as hoped for.  Marine fuel rules from the California Air Resources Board are still in litigation.  We need strong national regulations to deal with the health risks from diesel pollution from ships.  

The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are, collectively, the fifth largest port in the world, and handle roughly 40% of all imports to the United States.  The local ports' success has come at a very high price to public health in Southern California.  Our ports are the biggest polluters in the most polluted region in the United States.  The already high rates of asthma, lung cancer, cardio-respiratory and other diseases are rising sharply in the low-income and minority neighborhoods near the ports and near the highways and railyards that serve the ports.  Diesel pollution from the goods movement industry is estimated to cause 3,700 premature deaths in California every year.  Pollution from ocean-going vessels accounts for roughly half of the port-related diesel pollution in Southern California.  Low-income and minority residents near the Southern California ports are disproportionately affected by this pollution.  

This is a nationwide problem.  EPA's analysis shows that, in 2020, if left unregulated, emissions from Category 3 marine engines will comprise 52.9% of mobile source diesel emissions nationally, as well as 24.4% of mobile source NOx (oxides of nitrogen) and 93.3% of mobile source SOx (oxides of sulfur).  

The proposed EPA rule is expected to reduce pollution from oceangoing vessels substantially:  by 2020, reductions are expected of 94,000 tons of PM2.5 (small particulate matter), 409,000 tons of NOx and 876,000 tons of SOx relative to the 2020 baseline.  This is hugely important to California and to the nation. 

Our hardworking summer intern Klementina Pavlova went with me to the hearing today.  She was very impressed - as were the members of the EPA panel - by the testimony from local residents about the effects of air pollution on themselves and their families.  That's why we do this work - it's not just some intellectual thing that dressed-up intellectuals talk (or blog) about.  It's about people who are getting sick because the goods movement industry doesn't want to pay the cost to clean up industry's mess.     

EPA estimates that its proposed new rule will return public health benefits in a ratio of 30 to 1.  Those are pretty good odds.  Let's put our chips there instead of continuing to gamble with the lives of people who live near our ports.