NEW YORK -- Shipping industry officials expressed concern and occasionally outright opposition today to U.S. EPA's proposed tightening of pollution regulations on marine vessels during a public hearing here.
The proposal requires that vessels with large diesel engines be equipped with technology to reduce nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions and halts the U.S. production and sale of high-sulfur marine fuel.
Kurt Jones of the Shipbuilding Association of Canada said the timing of the regulations would harm companies in Canada and the United States. EPA has set a Sept. 5 deadline for review of the proposal. "We need a phased approach," he said.
The rules would be particularly harmful to ships that operate exclusively in the Great Lakes and U.S.-Canadian waterways, he said. By driving up fuel prices, the rules could harm the environment as customers switch to rail and trucking, which consume much more fuel per unit shipped.
Jones and others urged EPA to extend the timeline so that shippers can conduct more thorough reviews, especially in light of the regulations' estimated price tag of more than $1 billion.
Kathy Metcalf, maritime affairs director at the Chamber of Shipping of America, urged EPA to craft separate rules for so-called "captive operations" in the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway. Those operations differ significantly from oceangoing operations.
Also, shipping officials say burning fuel with a lower sulfur content would slow ships down, forcing them to burn more fuel overall and adding further costs. Others said the new rules could put U.S. fleets at a disadvantage and could encourage more foreign vessels with ecologically damaging ballast water to ply U.S. sea lanes.
Fuel switching ahead of new technology could also make ships entering ports less maneuverable, experts said, increasing the risk of an accident.
"Seven propulsion losses have been documented" in or near California ports, Metcalf said. Her organization's concerns about the proposal aren't "deal breakers" but make a case for a closer review, she said, including figuring out how to come up with a waste stream to handle excess sulfur extracted from marine fuel after refining.
Despite the concerns, most speakers voiced strong support for the proposal. Environmentalists and health advocates all agree with EPA's estimate that thousands of lives would be saved each year by cutting pollution in coastal regions.
"I was surprised to learn how far inland pollution blows from these oceangoing ships," said Mary Partridge, a board member at the American Lung Association, noting EPA data that show ship emissions can travel more than 100 miles from coastlines. Any rise in shipping costs that could result from the proposal is "a tiny price to pay," she said.
EPA officials presenting the plan said the expanded regulation also makes sense, as it follows a trend of tightening sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide pollution from a variety of mobile sources.
"During this last decade, we've been regulating diesel engines in heavy-duty highway trucks, non-road construction and agricultural equipment, locomotive and smaller marine diesel engines, and now moving into the very large ship engines," said Michael Samulski of EPA's Office of Transportation and Air Quality. "Sort of a continual progress of reducing NOx [nitrogen oxide] and particulate emissions."
The proposed standards would see nitrogen oxide emissions from ships falling by up to 25 percent by 2011 and 80 percent by 2016. And EPA would also ban the production and sale of fuel with sulfur content of 1,000 parts per million or greater from U.S. coastlines and waterways.
The United States and Canada are also asking the U.N. International Maritime Organization to designate their coastlines as "emission control areas," a move that would tighten emissions standards on foreign ships.
EPA official Paul Machiele said that implementing the new domestic proposal and winning IMO support would lead to a "dramatic impact" on air quality in coastal areas and would noticeably reduce smog in the largest port cities. The next hearing will be held in Long Beach, Calif.