EPA shipping rule may exempt older vessels

A pending U.S. EPA rule aimed at slashing air pollution from large oceanbound ships could exempt older steamships that are unequipped for switching to cleaner fuel, according to a key House Democrat.

Rep. Norm Dicks of Washington, chairman of the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, said EPA plans to include an exemption for older steamships from regulations limiting the sulfur content of fuel in ships operating in U.S. waters. The agency is also planning to work with other nations to secure a global exemption for older ships, he said.

"It would take care of all of these old steamships, for which adding this fuel has some danger to it," said Dicks, who was briefed on the EPA effort.

EPA declined to comment on the exemption. "That will be addressed in the rule, which should be out very soon," EPA spokeswoman Deb Berlin said.

The agency is expected to release new engine and fuel standards for large ocean vessels soon. The White House Office of Management and Budget yesterday wrapped up its rule review. EPA was under a court deadline to finalize the rule yesterday.


EPA's draft rule released in July proposed drastically cutting pollution by requiring vessels with large diesel engines to curb emissions of nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide. EPA also proposed forbidding U.S. production and sale of high-sulfur marine fuel (E&ENews PM, July 1).

The regulation is a part of the agency's broader strategy to control ship emissions, according to EPA. In March, the United States and Canada asked the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to designate thousands of miles of the countries' coastlines as "emission control areas," a move that would tighten emission standards on foreign ships operating in those waters.

"I think what's going to happen is that the United States EPA is going to go to the [IMO], and they're going to suggest exempting all of these ships worldwide, the older steamships, because of this fuel issue," Dicks said.

About 400 steamships worldwide could be exempted from the requirements, Dicks said.

Asked if he supports the measure, Dicks said, "If they can get the rest of the world to agree to it, I think it's probably the right thing to do."

EPA's draft rule was at the center of a political firestorm this fall when lawmakers inserted a controversial rider into an EPA spending bill to exempt 13 Great Lakes steamships from the standards and to allow EPA to extend waivers for other ships. House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) backed the rider, along with Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.) and other lawmakers from the Great Lakes region (E&E Daily, Oct. 28).

Proponents argued the amendment was aimed at preventing economic hardship in the Great Lakes states, while environmental groups and air regulators cautioned that such a measure could disrupt the pending international negotiations over emission reductions.

Frank O'Donnell, president of the advocacy group Clean Air Watch, said Dicks is rumored to have urged EPA to extend the exemption offered to Great Lakes ships to more than 20 steamships operating along the West Coast.

"This is a disappointing turn of events and could further weaken the rules," O'Donnell said.

Dicks' spokesman George Behan dismissed that claim.

"Norm was briefed on the EPA effort that is going to be working with IMO for a worldwide solution," Behan said, "but we're not doing any exemption on the West Coast in particular."

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