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Alaska editorial: Fuel regs show problem with Law of the Sea Treaty

Posted: August 13, 2012 - 12:04am

This editorial first appeared in the Alaska Journal of Commerce:

On July 13, the State of Alaska filed a lawsuit to challenge new fuel requirements for ocean-going vessels plying the West Coast shipping lanes that took effect Aug. 1. The new standards imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency will raise the cost of everything that crosses our docks by at least 8 percent initially, and even further by 2015 when stricter standards kick in.

The following Monday, July 16, Senate opponents to the Law of the Sea Treaty, or LOST, announced they had 34 signatures and enough to block ratification.

Alaska’s delegation of Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich were not among them, as both have been among the staunchest advocates for the Senate ratifying LOST.

Murkowski has also been on the warpath against the EPA and its Administrator Lisa Jackson over the new fuel standards for Alaska, soliciting pictures from across the state that document the unbelievable prices for basic goods such as milk and bread.

While Murkowski, Begich and the state’s official positions are to support ratification of LOST, the manner in which these new fuel standards were established by the EPA is precisely the reason opposition hardened to the treaty and killed it once again.

Back in 2009, the EPA under Jackson went to the International Maritime Organization and proposed a 200-mile Emission Control Area for the U.S. West Coast and the Great Lakes region. The ECA required the use of 1 percent sulfur fuel by 2012 and 0.1 percent by 2015.

The reason the EPA was able to unilaterally impose this new ECA and fuel standards is because the U.S. is a signatory to the International Convention for Prevention of Pollution from Ships, otherwise known as Marpol.

The U.S. Senate ratified Annex VI to Marpol in 2008, which set a target fuel standard for 3.5 percent sulfur. The EPA went way beyond that, and way beyond any reason when it proposed the 200-mile area where the standard would apply.

Then, to add a nice dose of favoritism to the injury, the EPA exempted more than two dozen old steamships in the Great Lakes region from complying with the new standards.

That was done at the behest of Minnesota Rep. Jim Oberstar, a Democrat, and Wisconsin Rep. David Obey, coincidentally also a Democrat, who held up the EPA budget until Jackson gave them the Great Lakes exemption.

Meanwhile, two old steamships used by Totem Ocean Trailer Express Inc., the Western Venture and the Great Land, were rendered obsolete. TOTE had replaced the vessels with the mighty North Star and the Midnight Sun in 2003, but maintained the older ships for occasional military transport leasing and to have available in case another vessel was unavailable.

Alaska Rep. Don Young was at the meeting with the EPA when Obey and Oberstar got their carve-outs, and his staff described the EPA attitude toward Alaska as “hostile” and “without an open or positive attitude” about the an Alaska exemption.

So, the EPA claims this is a health benefit, then exempts the dirtiest ships in the heaviest populated areas while sticking it to Alaska.

It’s a pretty short circle back to the Law of the Sea Treaty, and what’s wrong with it.

Going beyond Marpol, the LOST requires signatory countries to control “land-based emissions” in addition to marine emissions.

Hmmm, think the EPA under this administration wouldn’t have a field day with that provision?

Proponents of LOST say it is needed to resolve territorial disputes among nations, such as China’s claims in the South China Sea or Russia’s advances into the Arctic.

The problem with that is every Arctic nation and a host of others signed on to LOST have already declined to accept Article 298 of the treaty, which sets out the dispute arbitration process.

Countries that have exempted themselves from dispute resolution regarding territorial claims, military matters and areas where the U.N. Security Council has jurisdiction include: Norway, Russia, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Canada and China.

So even if the U.S. ratified LOST, it can’t bring China or Russia to a dispute resolution because those nations have already declared they won’t accept the process. Besides, how is it that we can negotiate bilaterally with the Russians on nuclear weapons (badly, we may add, in the last round of START talks), but we need a U.N. arbiter to resolve territorial disputes?

We’ve also been told LOST would be a boon to our offshore resource development, potentially adding an area the size of California to Alaska’s claims on the continental shelf.

Considering that we don’t drill off the coast of California we have now, and all the trouble Shell has encountered trying to drill less than 100 miles offshore in the Arctic, it’s hard for us to imagine we’ll suddenly be developing resources past our exclusive economic zone any time soon by ratifying LOST.

Another reason LOST drew opposition was the International Seabed Authority that would govern the development of any of those new claims beyond 200 miles.

If you think Alaska’s oil tax regime is bad, the royalty scheme under LOST is essentially the ACES of the sea. According to the treaty, if a project earns a 20 percent or greater return on investment, a 70 percent royalty is kicked back to the International Seabed Authority headquartered in Jamaica.

The ISA then uses this money to aid “geographically disadvantaged” countries that lack coastlines.

Then there’s the idea that the U.S. somehow loses standing in the world compared to some of the worst human rights violators like China and Russia because we aren’t signed on to the treaty.

Just like when we were kids, “everyone else is doing it,” is still the weakest argument of all.

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