EPA to Clean Up Diesel Ship Pollution Nationwide

Obama Administration Will Use New Global Pact to Improve Air Quality in Port Communities

WASHINGTON, D.C. (March 30, 2009) – The Environmental Protection Agency today announced that it is taking steps under a new global agreement to reduce ship pollution within 200 miles of U.S. shores. Under the new proposal, U.S. and foreign-flagged ships in this area will be required to use dramatically cleaner fuel and more effective pollution controls for their engines. Once implemented, the proposal will significantly improve air quality in port communities, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

Today's action comes on the heels of an international agreement reached last year that adopted new emissions standards for large diesel-fueled, ocean-going ships. Under this agreement, nations can petition the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to create "Emission Control Areas" off their coasts. In these areas, large ships will have to use fuel that contains 98 percent less sulfur than the current global cap and install pollution-cutting equipment to reduce nitrogen oxides (NOx) by 80 percent, particulate matter (PM) by 85 percent, and sulfur oxides (SOx) by 95 percent, compared to current emissions levels.

A statement follows from Rich Kassel, Director of the Clean Fuels and Vehicles Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council:

“Dirty diesel pollution from ships is a serious, but solvable, problem. EPA's proposal is an important step towards curbing ship pollution on our coasts.

“Port communities around the nation have waited for years to see coordinated federal action to reduce ship pollution in their backyards. Cleaner ships will mean cleaner air for anybody who lives downwind from our ports.”


NRDC has been fighting to clean up air pollution in U.S. ports for years. NRDC's 2004 report, "Harboring Pollution: Strategies to Clean Up U.S. Ports," first identified ways to reduce the environmental impacts of large ports. In New York and New Jersey, NRDC has been advocating to reduce emissions from port facilities of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. In California, NRDC spearheaded successful coalition campaigns that are dramatically improving the air quality in and around the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and is adapting those successes to the Port of Oakland. At the federal level, NRDC played a major role in EPA's enactment of a 2008 regulation to reduce train and U.S. ship pollution and advocated for the global agreement that enable today's proposal for all ocean-going vessels.

Key Statistics:

  • Since 1995, worldwide container growth has averaged more than 10 percent annually, and this is expected to continue. U.S. ports are projected to handle more than 60 million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units, the industry standard for measuring container volumes) in 2010, rising to more than 110 million TEUs in 2020. To handle this growth, every major U.S. port is planning to at least double their freight capacity - with many east coast ports expected to triple their volumes and some west coast ports expected to quadruple their volumes.
  • Out of 100 major U.S. ports where container ships dock, 40 are in metropolitan areas that do not meet federal air quality standards.
  • More than 87 million Americans live near ports that don't meet EPA's federal health standards for ozone or particulate matter, the key pollutants linked to dirty ship pollution. Many millions more live downwind, since the toxic particles can travel for hundreds of miles.
  • Ship emissions are projected to grow dramatically in relation to other pollution sources. In 2001, oceangoing vessels contributed only about six percent of transportation-related nitrogen oxide (NOx), 10 percent of particulate matter (PM), and roughly 40 percent of sulfur dioxide (SOx) to the nation's air pollution. Without further controls, pollution will increase to about 34 percent of NOx, 45 percent of PM, and 94 percent of SOx emissions by 2030.