AIR POLLUTION:

Fight brewing over possible rider to weaken shipping regs

Clean air advocates are girding for a battle over a possible amendment to the annual U.S. EPA spending bill that would weaken the agency's ability to regulate air pollution from oceangoing vessels.

Five advocacy groups yesterday urged the House and Senate overseers of the fiscal 2010 Interior-EPA appropriations bill to oppose any possible rider that would "weaken, delay or limit" EPA's ability to implement proposed engine and fuel standards for the largest ocean-bound ships.

It remains unclear what such an amendment would entail, but sources on and off Capitol Hill say that House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) and House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.) are backing the language. Spokesmen for the congressmen were not immediately available for comment.

"We're shocked that a Democratic Congress would even consider attacking the Obama EPA on such a critical public health issue," said Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch.

At issue is EPA's proposed strategy to address emissions from oceangoing vessels. The plan would slash U.S. nitrogen oxide emissions by 1.2 million tons and particulate matter emissions by about 143,000 tons by 2030. EPA says the program would prevent between 13,000 and 33,000 premature deaths per year by 2030(E&ENews PM, July 1).

"The need for these rules is urgent," states the letter from the American Lung Association, Clean Air Watch, the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. "Any delay will postpone the health benefits."

Yesterday, EPA's Clean Air Act Advisory Committee -- a stakeholder advisory group -- approved a resolution recommending that EPA carry out its proposal and "decline requests for any geographic exemptions including, but not limited to, the Great Lakes."

The spending bill has cleared both chambers, but changes are possible when House and Senate conferees meet to hash it out. It is unclear exactly when that conference will occur.

Shipping industry representatives have argued that the rules would be particularly harmful to ships that operate exclusively in the Great Lakes and U.S.-Canadian waterways, and urged EPA to craft separate rules for the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway. Several shipping groups 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 (E&ENews PM, Aug. 4).

The comment period on the draft rule ended Sept. 28.

Click here to read the groups' letter.

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