AIR POLLUTION:

Emission-cutting plans approved for U.S., Canadian coasts

The International Maritime Organization today finalized plans that would subject ships within a 230-mile buffer zone around the U.S. and Canadian coastlines to stricter air pollution regulations.

The organization formally approved a joint U.S. and Canadian request to create "emission control areas," where ships will be required to drastically cut their emissions, IMO spokesman Lee Adamson said. The London-based IMO is a U.N. agency that regulates the environmental and safety aspects of international shipping.

Creating an emissions control area along the U.S. and Canadian coasts will save up to 8,300 American and Canadian lives every year by 2020, according to U.S. EPA.

The designation will take effect in August 2012. By 2015, according to EPA, the rule will require ships entering emission control areas to cut nitrogen oxide emissions by 80 percent, particulate matter by 85 percent and sulfur oxides by 95 percent relative to current emissions levels.

"This is a change that will benefit millions of people and set in motion new innovations for the shipping industry. We’re gratified by the IMO's decision to help keep our air clean and our communities healthy," said U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. "The sulfur, particulate emissions and other harmful pollutants from large ships reach from our ports to communities hundreds of miles inland -- bringing with them health, environmental and economic burdens."

Environmental groups also applauded IMO's final designation.

"These new emission controls will finally begin to clean up the largest, dirtiest ships servicing North American ports and sailing along our shores," said Rich Kassel, an attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council and director of NRDC's clean vehicles and fuels project.

John Kaltenstein, marine program manager at Friends of the Earth, also welcomed the announcement, saying that the designation would help prevent large ships, including foreign-flagged vessels, from contributing to air pollution and harming public health.

"Friends of the Earth has been working for more than a decade to end deadly and unregulated pollution from the shipping industry, one of the last industries to be brought under pollution control laws," Kaltenstein said.

However, he added, the IMO rules will not address greenhouse gases or black carbon, and his group plans to fight for additional rules to address those emissions.

Some members of the shipping industry have expressed concerns about the higher cost and decreased fuel availability under the stricter limits.

EPA estimates that the total costs of slashing ships' emissions to comply with the new standards will be about $3.2 billion by 2020. The monetized health benefits from the rule are expected to range between $47 billion and $110 billion.

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