Canada, US Look to Restrict Shipping Emissions

8 April 2009

Canada and the US have asked the UN International Maritime Organization (IMO) to establish a massive shipping pollution buffer zone extending 370 km off the two country’s coastlines. Under the plan, all ships engaged in international trade that either call at ports in or navigate through the ‘Emissions Control Area’ (ECA) would be forced to adopt strict emissions standards set well below current global requirements. It is the first proposal of its kind.
 
In order to meet the proposed ECA requirements, fuel used by ships would be required to contain no more than 1,000 parts per million of sulphur by 2015 - a reduction of some 98 percent from current levels. Nitrogen oxide emissions would have to be cut by 80 percent.
 
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which submitted the proposal on 27 March on behalf of the two countries, says that pollution from shipping has grown to alarming levels and is impacting the health of those living in coastal communities. Shipping emissions are an ongoing environmental concern due to the common use of heavy sulphur-rich ‘bunker’ fuels.
 
“This is an important - and long overdue - step in our efforts to protect the air and water along our shores, and the health of the people in our coastal communities,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “We want to ensure the economic strength of our port cities at the same time that we take responsible steps to protect public health and the environment in the United States and across the globe.”
 
US Senator Barbara Boxer, a Democrat and the chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, concurred. “We have known for a long time that our families that live around ports have a higher rate of respiratory illness, including cancer,” Boxer said. “EPA’s announcement today is music to my ears because it means the United States is stepping forward to take a strong leadership role on clean air around ports.”
 
The EPA estimates that the buffer zone initiative could prevent the deaths of some 8,300 North Americans every year by 2020. More than 40 percent of US ports are in metropolitan areas that fail to meet federal air quality standards.
 
Officials say the proposal is meant to prevent a sudden rush to maritime transportation by other industries that are expected to face emissions controls.
 
The shipping industry says the measure would prove to be costly, as expensive fuel will be needed to travel within the proposed ECA. The IMO is expected to begin reviewing the proposal in July. If approved, the EPA says implementation could occur as early as next year.
 
“U.S. Proposes to Slash Harmful Ship Emissions Along the Nation’s Coastlines to Save Lives,” EPA PRESS RELEASE, 30 March 2009; “US Asks UN To Help Cut Ship Emissions Near Coasts,” REUTERS, 31 March 2009; “EPA Proposes Sharp Cuts in Air Pollution From Ships,” WALL STREET JOURNAL, 30 March 2009; “North American waters set to become largest emissions control area,” LLOYD’S LIST, 31 March 2009.

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