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Last updated on April 17, 2014 at 12:46 EDT

US Wants UN-Buffered Coastlines

March 31, 2009

A U.S. request was made to the United Nations International Maritime Organization asking that a safe barrier be established along American coastlines to reduce pollution emitted by ocean-going ships which jeopardize human health, the Environmental Protection Agency said on Monday, in a report accounted by Reuters. 

EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson, commented, “This is an important and long overdue step in our efforts to protect the air and the water along our shores and the health of the people in our coastal communities.”

Large vessels like oil tankers and cargo ships would face stricter smog and particulate pollution standards, with this new proposal, if they frequent outside the 230-mile “emissions control area” extending from two countries coastlines.  This idea would cut the exposure of emissions to humans as well as the environment. 

Foreign-flagged vessels make up the majority of the ship calls on U.S. ports, which is the reason the United States requested that IMO establish the boundaries. 

An EPA projection suggests that up to 8,300 lives could be saved annually in the U.S. and Canada by 2020.  Pollutant related health conditions like asthma and cancer, EPA studies indicate, are suffered most in urban neighborhoods of port towns like the hubs of Newark, New Jersey and Los Angeles.  Currently, federal air pollution standards are not being met in more than 40 U.S. ports. 

Environmentalists actively support the action. “Ships are floating smokestacks that deliver soot and smog straight to the heart of our most crowded cities, home to 87 million Americans,” informed Andy Darrell, a vice president for the Living Cities program at the Environmental Defense Fund.  He advocates that 96 percent of ship pollution could be eliminated by 2015 with the establishment of emissions control areas. 

According to the EPA, the cost of the annual $3.2 billion spent until 2020 in ship retooling, cleaner fuels and other expenses, is justified by the savings of $28 billion per year in heath care costs. 

A standard shipment from China to the U.S. West Coast, EPA emissions expert, Bryan Bunker said, would add approximately $18 per 20-foot container unit under this plan, which amounts to “about a penny per pair of tennis shoes.” 

With the imposition of this plan, sulfur in fuel would be reduced by 98 percent, particulate matters emissions by 85 percent and nitrogen oxide emissions by 80 percent from current world limits. 

Although more expensive, diesel fuels contribute to cleaner air more so than traditionally burned bunker fuel. If ships were to make this change, sulfur and particulate pollution would be better controlled.  With better engines that burn fuels more efficiently, nitrogen oxide emissions can be regulated. 

Allowable sulfur levels in fuel utilized by ships shall not exceed 0.1 percent within the buffer zone, at the commencement of 2015.  Vessels within the zones must use engines with emission controls to manage the nitrogen oxide pollution, beginning in 2016. 

The U.S. Coast Guard, who was also instrumental in the advancement of this proposal, promises to enforce the guidelines in the buffer zones.

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