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EPA: Marine diesel harmful to human health

Marine diesel emission control area to take effect Aug. 1

Posted: July 23, 2012 - 2:41am

A treaty between the U.S. and Canada requires certain ships to burn low-sulfur diesel fuel in a North American Emissions Control Area in Alaska beginning August 1 (goo.gl/ZH2Eo). The rule would eventually require cruise and shipping companies to use fuel with sulfur levels at 1,000 parts per million.

John Binkley president of the Alaska Cruise Association has said the cruise industry typically uses emissions controls and fuel with less sulfur than that which is currently required. A change to the new fuel, however, could cost the cruise industry millions of dollars per ship, Binkley said.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Coast Guard are in charge of enforcement. The agency said it is flexible with those affected by the rule in meeting the ECA, according to the EPA in an email interview.

The rule will result in “slashing harmful particulate pollution that causes heart and asthma attacks in communities near ports and hundreds of miles inland," according to the EPA’s response.

Emissions from large marine diesel engines affect populations near ports and hundreds of miles inland, the EPA said. Fine particles, which can cause of asthma and heart attack, and smog-causing nitrogen oxide are two pollutants the EPA expects will increase over time if Control Areas are not enforced.

President George W. Bush signed the Maritime Pollution Protection Act of 2008 in July of that year. This cleared the way for ratification of the MARPOL Annex VI Treaty – the treaty that allows for Emissions Control Areas.

The EPA announced in March of 2009 its proposal to enforce a 230-mile emission control area along U.S. and Canada coastlines. The Agency submitted its proposal to the United Nations International Maritime Organization for approval. The EPA later introduced domestic rules as part of the Clean Air Act to mirror the international treaty rules governing emissions control areas. The International Maritime Organization approved the U.S./Canada ECA in March of 2010. It is scheduled to go into effect Aug. 1.

“At that time, the maximum sulfur content of fuel oil used by ships in the ECA will be limited to 10,000 ppm,” according to the EPA’s email. By 2015 this number drops to 1,000 ppm. Requirements for ships to use advanced emissions controls begin in 2016.

The State of Alaska has sued the EPA to prevent enforcement of the Emissions Control Area in Alaska. The EPA did not comment on the lawsuit.

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.

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