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Diane Bailey’s Blog

California tells ships to stop bypassing clean fuel zone

Diane Bailey

Posted June 23, 2011 in Curbing Pollution, Health and the Environment, Solving Global Warming

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California’s Air Resources Board meets tomorrow to close a major loophole undermining clean shipping fuel requirements adopted two years ago.  NRDC has been to court to defend these important rules several times (here and here), and the court agrees that California has the right to protect its coastal residents from major health hazards associated with ocean going vessels burning toxics-laden bunker fuel.

California’s Clean Fuel Zone for international ships is one of the cornerstones of a statewide emission reduction plan to curb pollution from cargo coming into our ports, rail yards and distribution centers.  Pollution from these diesel freight sources is associated with several thousand premature deaths each year; the Clean Shipping Fuel Zone by itself is expected to drastically reduce premature deaths, asthma and other severe health problems.

Unfortunately, since the regulation was adopted, roughly half of the ships traveling to the busy ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are skirting the Clean Fuel Zone by cutting through the Navy’s Point Mugu Missile Test range.  Cutting through the Navy’s training waters is not only a bad idea for safety reasons, but also is done at the detriment of California’s air quality.

Thanks to these shippers traveling outside of the Clean Fuel Zone, we aren’t seeing nearly the benefits we should from the clean shipping fuel requirements.   This may have saved shippers some money by allowing them to use cheap and dirty bunker fuel, but it made for longer voyages that use more fuel, release more greenhouse gases and interfere with Naval operations.

The proposed changes to the clean fuel rule aren’t perfect; we have concerns over the two year delay for phase two of the clean fuel requirements.  This is reportedly required to deal with technical issues, but several major shipping lines (Maersk and APL) have already been using the very clean “phase 2” fuels since 2006 in some areas.  The proposal also cuts non-compliance fees in half, sending the wrong message that ships can continue to use dirty fuel as long as they pay the fee to pollute.  On balance however, extending the Clean Fuel Zone so that all ships travelling in California waters are clean is a major victory for public health.

Looking ahead, California must continue its leadership on clean shipping by setting statewide limits on ship speeds.  Ships that travel too fast waste fuel, risk strikes with whales and other marine life, and release more toxic air pollution as well as greenhouse gases.   Together with the Clean Shipping fuel measure, Vessel Speed Reduction was included by CARB in the Goods Movement Emission Reduction Plan of 2006. It was also included in the scoping plan for AB 32 and shortly thereafter development of the measure began.  Unfortunately the Vessel Speed Reduction measure has since languished.  It’s time to get this important global warming, health and marine mammal protection measure finished.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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