Supreme Court Declines to Hear NRDC California Clean Shipping Fuels Case

Federal Court Ruling to Reduce Ship Pollution and Improve California Air Quality Stands

WASHINGTON (June 25, 2012) —The Supreme Court today declined the Pacific Maritime Shipping Association’s request to  review a lower court ruling requiring roughly 2,000 ocean-going vessels entering California ports each year to switch to low-sulfur fuel before coming within 24 nautical miles of the state’s coast. Denying the case allows the lower court ruling to remain in place and will protect millions of people living in California from the harmful effects of inhaling particulate pollution from ships.

“This ruling finally puts an end to industry’s attempts to shirk responsibility and reduce air pollution that’s threatening the health of millions of Californians each year,” said Melissa Lin Perrella, senior attorney with NRDC.

In 2009, PMSA challenged California’s Vessel Fuel Rule, which has the opportunity to be one the most health protective regulations ever adopted.  About 40 percent of the nation’s imported goods move through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, creating massive emissions from trucks and vessels.

The fuel rules require thousands of vessels that ship our TVs, tennis shoes and cars over the Pacific to use less polluting fuel starting 24 nautical miles from California’s shore.  Over the course of six years, between 2009 and 2015, these rules will prevent 3,500 heart and lung disease-related deaths. 

Eighty percent of Californians are exposed to air pollution from large ocean-going vessels as their exhaust drifts inland.  Every day, these vessels spew toxic diesel particulate matter (PM) in an amount equivalent to 150,000 big rig trucks driving 125 miles daily.  While people living close to ports are particularly affected, wind patterns, geography, and meteorology transport vessel-generated air pollution well beyond California’s coastline and into too many lungs.

The regulations will reduce diesel particulate matter emissions by 74 percent and sulfur oxides by over 80 percent.  The regulations would cost the shipping industry less than one percent of the total cost of a typical trans-Pacific voyage, and in their lawsuit, the shipping industry admits these costs aren’t unreasonable, overly burdensome or technically infeasible. 

Federal and international efforts are also underway to try to address ship pollution, but those efforts have not been fully phased-in.  California’s Vessel Fuel Rule is providing public health benefits to millions of Californians today and is critical to the state’s efforts to meet federal clean air standards. 

Related Links

Melissa Lin Perrella’s previous blogs about the lawsuit: