Shipping Industry Must Use Cleaner Fuel, Says Court

California Clean Air Regulations To Go Into Effect Today

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (July 1, 2009) – Starting today, California will require ocean-going vessels to switch to progressively cleaner fuels despite a legal challenge mounted by the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association (PMSA). Yesterday, the Eastern District of California denied PMSA’s motion for summary judgment, which if granted, would have derailed clean fuel rules designed to significantly reduce toxic emissions from ships that visit California’s ports. NRDC and Coalition for Clean Air are defendant-intervenors in the lawsuit PMSA filed on April 27, 2009.

The landmark low-sulfur fuel regulations adopted by the California Air Resources Board begin implementation today with a second deadline on January 1, 2012 to require that all ocean-going vessels entering California ports switch to progressively cleaner fuels starting at 24 miles from California’s coast.

Air pollution produced by ocean-going vessels exposes 80 percent of Californians to significant cancer risk and is responsible for claiming the lives of thousands of Californians annually and sickening hundreds of thousands across the state, according to NRDC. In addition to health necessity, the fuel rules are critical to meeting clean air requirements in California. Without the regulations, it would be impossible for the South Coast Air Basin to meet national ambient air quality standards for particulate matter, as required under the Clean Air Act.

Following is a statement from Melissa Lin Perrella, Staff Attorney for NRDC:

“The Court’s ruling is a victory for public health. Studies confirm offshore diesel particulate pollution from ships is carried for miles inland and we know from the billions we spend on healthcare-related costs attributed to air pollution that those emissions find permanent homes in our lungs. Our children, friends and families can no longer subsidize use of this cheaper, toxic fuel with their lives. 

“Requiring ships to use clean-burning fuel within 24 miles of our coast will save 3,500 lives during the next six years that would otherwise be cut short by particulate pollution. Complying with these regulations will cost less than one percent of a typical trans-Pacific voyage’s total cost and will reduce diesel particulate emissions by nearly 75 percent.”


In its lawsuit, PMSA argued that the Submerged Lands Act of 1953 precluded California from regulating vessels beyond its territorial boundaries. In denying PMSA’s motion, however, Judge Morrison C. England, Jr. of the Eastern District of California concluded “There is no indication in either the [Submerged Lands Act] itself, or within its legislative history, to suggest that Congress intended the [Submerged Lands Act] to prevent coastal states like California herein from regulating offshore air pollution from ocean-going vessels . . . the effects on California from ocean-going vessels pollution are both substantial and beyond any reasonable doubt.” 

California is the first state to adopt clean fuel requirements for ocean-going vessels, requiring ships to switch to cleaner fuels within 24 miles of the coast.  CARB adopted the rules at issue in July 2008.  This is the second time PMSA challenged fuel requirements proposed by the California Air Resources Board.

Ocean-going vessels are very large and include large cargo vessels such as container vessels, tankers, bulk carriers, and car carriers, as well as passenger cruise vessels. The main engines on these vessels are as tall as a five story building and weigh 1,500 tons; they produce enough energy to power 30,000 houses. Ocean-going vessels typically use low-grade “bunker fuel.”  Such fuel contains an average of about 25,000 parts per million (ppm) sulfur, as opposed to diesel fuel for trucks and other motor vehicles, which is limited to 15 ppm sulfur.