AIR POLLUTION:

EPA port regs failing to protect public health -- IG

U.S. EPA's efforts to slash ship emissions at ports have not gone far enough to protect human health, the agency's inspector general said in a report this week.

Under the Clean Air Act, EPA has authority to regulate emissions from oceangoing vessels if their emissions threaten health. But while EPA has acknowledged for more than 14 years that ship emissions are health risks, the agency has only regulated nitrogen oxides emissions, and only from U.S.-flagged vessels.

EPA has deferred taking a position on whether it has authority to regulate foreign ships, which account for about 90 percent of all U.S. port calls, the report says.

But the agency has pursued international emission reductions through the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Last October, the IMO adopted new standards for vessel engines and fuels. But before significant emissions reductions can be achieved, EPA must establish control areas in which ships would be subject to tougher regulations (E&ENews PM, Oct. 9, 2008).

EPA has also failed to implement some key elements of its effort to cut air emissions at U.S. ports, the report says. The agency has not developed regulations to reduce emissions from oceangoing vessel engines, and despite the emphasis EPA has placed on voluntary emissions reduction programs, those initiatives have been sparsely implemented.

The inspector general's office recommends that the agency take several steps to curb port pollution, including assessing its authority and responsibility to regulate foreign-flagged vessels, considering which coastal areas should be designated as emission control areas and revising its ports strategy to include a transformation plan to ensure that key environmental goals are realized.

"As a general matter, OIG's findings are consistent with our experience with regard to addressing emissions from large ocean-going vessels," EPA's acting air chief, Elizabeth Craig, said in the agency's written response to the findings.

But Craig said the report's assessment of EPA's voluntary programs to address air pollution at ports is incomplete and underrepresents the activities of the port authorities, their tenants and customers to voluntarily address air issues.

Click here to read the IG report.