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AK ferries avoid EPA low-sulfur rule

Near-coastal AMHS fleet already burns low-sulfur diesel

Posted: July 27, 2012 - 12:05am
Michael Neussl, Director of Marine Operations for the Alaska State Marine Highway, gives an update to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce during their luncheon at the Moose Lodge on Thursday.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Neussl, Director of Marine Operations for the Alaska State Marine Highway, gives an update to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce during their luncheon at the Moose Lodge on Thursday.

Current fuel requirements for Alaska’s ferries should buffer the Alaska Marine Highway System from the Environmental Protection Agency’s low-sulfur fuel requirements.

“It’s not really an issue for the Alaska Marine Highway System,” said Mike Neussl, Alaska Marine Highway Service marine operations deputy commissioner. “We use ultra low sulfur diesel right now in all of our ships.”

A treaty between the U.S. and Canada allows the countries to establish Emissions Control Areas along their coasts and is recognized by the United Nations. The EPA established an ECA along the U.S. coast which goes into effect Aug. 1. The control area requires, among other provisions, that certain large marine engines burn low-sulfur fuel within 200 miles of the coast.

“Finally a regulation comes along and you say ‘That was easy,’” Neussl said, “let’s move on to the next problem.”

Deputy Commissioner Neussl addressed the EPA’s fuel requirement during his speech at the Chamber of Commerce lunch lecture series, Thursday.

Emissions from large diesel marine engines can affect health up to 100 miles inland, according to the EPA (goo.gl/Clh9b). Health issues such as asthma and heart disease are linked to diesel emissions, the agency said.

The EPA would enforce sulfur levels in marine diesel fuel that would drop to 10,000 ppm in 2012 and to 1,000 ppm by 2015.

The cruise industry has said it could see fuel costs rise by millions of dollars per ship (goo.gl/ZH2Eo).

The State of Alaska has sued the EPA to exclude Alaska from enforcement of the ECA due to the state’s unique maritime concerns.

Neussl said Alaska’s ferries have access to low-sulfur fuel at all ports they use.

The Alaska Marine Highway System carried around 330,000 passengers in 2011. The year’s $52.8 million revenue was an all time record. Upkeep and operation of the marine highway system cost the state $160 million.

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

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