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It’s official – dirty diesel ships must clean up their act along all U.S. coasts

Rich Kassel

Posted March 26, 2010

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Great news from London on American air quality!

At a meeting in the UK today, the International Maritime Organization formally adopted a proposal to create a special “Emission Control Area” around the coastlines of the U.S. and Canada that will dramatically reduce air pollution from all ships within 200 miles of our shores.  The finalized plan will cover all ocean-going vessels, including large tankers, container ships, and cruise vessels, whether U.S. or foreign-flagged.  It goes into effect in 2015.

I wrote about the background and significance of the proposal in this blog post from last week, before I left for the international make-or-break meetings as the only NGO member of the U.S. delegation at this meeting.  And now, I’m thrilled to announce, it is official.

These new emission controls will finally begin to clean up the largest, dirtiest ships servicing North American ports and sailing along our shores.  Communities up and down the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf Coasts will feel the air quality improvements – and the benefits will even extend hundreds of miles inland, reaching as far away as Nevada, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and the Grand Canyon.

And the health benefits will be enormous.  EPA estimates this change will avoid as many as 14,000 premature deaths in 2020, and relieve acute respiratory symptoms in nearly 5 million people each year.  

Cleaning up these floating smokestacks was critical – they are some of the dirtiest engines in our midst.  In fact, right now the fuel used in a large ship contains as much sulfur pollution as 3,000 diesel trucks.  Starting in five years, that will fuel will not only have 98 percent less sulfur, the ships that use this new fuel will emit 80 percent less smog-forming nitrogen oxides and 85 percent less cancer-causing particulate soot emissions.

As with all EPA's diesel rules over the past decade, the financial benefits will far, far, far exceed the expected implementation costs.  In fact, EPA estimates that there will be more than $34 in health benefits for every $1 in implementation costs. 

By proposing these emissions controls, EPA and our colleagues on the U.S. delegation took a stand for public health across the country.  And by finalizing the U.S. proposal, the international community has cemented this major public health victory and affirmed the need for cleaner ships in North America.  Because 88 percent of the ships that carry goods to U.S. ports are foreign-flagged, we needed the International Maritime Organization, the only body with the authority to control international ship pollution, to take this action.

It was an honor and a real pleasure to be part of the official U.S. delegation at this week’s IMO meetings in London, where they welcomed me onto the team.  Bravo and my heartiest congratulations to my delegation colleagues from EPA, the Coast Guard, the State Department and the other agencies and departments who carefully and ably drove this proposal over the finish line.   

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