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Marine Log

October 3, 2007

California seeks EPA action on ship greenhouse gas emissions

Citing the "threat of global climate disruption," California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. has joined three national environmental organizations in petitioning the United States Environmental Protection Agency to adopt strict greenhouse gas regulations for ocean-going vessels.

The California petition asks the EPA to make specific findings that ships significantly contribute to global warming.

At an October 2 news conference at the attorney general's headquarters in Los Angeles, Brown said: "The U.S. EPA has the authority to curb greenhouse gas emissions and our petition today asks the agency to exercise that authority without delay."

Ocean-going vessels, according to Brown's office, in total, emit more CO2 emissions than any nation in the world except the U.S., Russia, China, Japan, India and Germany. These emissions are projected to increase nearly 75% during the next 20 years.

"International law guarantees a right of 'innocent passage' for all ocean-going vessels, but this right does not include polluting the air or water near our coastal cities," Brown said. "If the U.S. is to do its part in reducing the threat of global climate disruption, then EPA must limit the global warming emissions from ships that enter the ports of the United States," Brown added.

Under the Clean Air Act, California has the authority to file a petition asking the EPA to establish CO2 emissions standards. In the petition filed by California, Brown asks the EPA to:

  • Make a finding that carbon dioxide emissions from ocean-going vessels contribute to air pollution and endanger human health and welfare.

  • Set standards for reducing such carbon dioxide emissions.

Brown said that under the reasoning of the United States Supreme Court's holding in Massachusetts v. EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to adopt standards for greenhouse gas emissions from vessels that enter U.S. territorial waters.

Brown's office says that the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has authority under international treaties to establish pollution standards for vessels but to date has failed to adopt controls on greenhouse gas emissions. At a recent meeting of the IMO Marine Environment Protection Committee, it was agreed to inventory greenhouse gases by 2009, but no commitment was made to regulate such emissions.


The coalition of environmental advocates filing a separate, similar petion are Oceana, Friends of the Earth and the Center for Biological Diversity.

The petition was filed on their behalf by Earthjustice, which describes itself as "the leading U.S. public interest environmental law firm."

The environmental coalition petition would require the EPA to assess ships' contributions to global warming, seek public comment and issue rules to reduce this pollution or explain why it will not act.

The petitioners asked the EPA to respond within 180 days.

According to the coalition, ships are major sources of greenhouse gas emissions. They say that the global fleet of marine vessels releases almost three percent of the world's carbon dioxide, an amount comparable to the emissions of Canada. Because of their huge number and inefficient operating practices, marine vessels release a large volume of global warming pollutants, particularly carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and black carbon (or soot).

Greenhouse gas emissions from ships are not currently regulated by the United States government. In addition, these emissions are not limited under the Kyoto Protocol or other international treaties that address global warming.

The coalition says that global shipping activity has increased by three percent per year for the last three decades and this rate of growth is projected to increase. If fuel use remains unchanged, they say, shipping pollution will increase substantially, potentially doubling from 2002 levels by 2020 and tripling by 2030.

"Global warming pollution from ships is a substantial problem. But fortunately, it's one that can be solved," said Danielle Fugere of Friends of the Earth. "Slower speeds, cleaner fuels, better ships -- the steps that the shipping industry must take are clear. It's up to the EPA to ensure these steps are taken."

The coalition's petition asks the Environmental Protection Agency to:

  • Require marine vessels to increase their fuel efficiency, thereby reducing carbon dioxide and other pollutants

  • Require marine vessels to use cleaner fuels to reduce greenhouse gas and soot emissions

  • Extend these new regulations to all marine cargo vessels operating in U.S. waters, whether they are registered in the United States or another country, to avoid disproportionate burdens on U.S. ships and to reduce pollution emitted in U.S. waters