California air regulators on Thursday approved the nation's toughest rules to reduce harmful emissions from ocean-going ships headed into the state's ports.
The regulations require domestic and foreign cargo ships, tankers and cruise vessels sailing into California waters to use cleaner fuel to power their engines and boilers.
The California fuel mandate comes amid similar international efforts, but air regulators say the 27 million Californians who breathe polluted air from the state's ports can't wait for those rules, which are being crafted to take effect in 2015.
"It's a terrific thing for people who live anywhere near the coast or where the sea breezes go," said David Pettit, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Shipping companies oppose rules
International shipping companies oppose the rules, adopted unanimously by the California Air Resources Board. They argue the state has no jurisdiction to regulate their operations outside the state's coastal zone.
The Pacific Merchant Shipping Association said California at best can regulate only ships within state waters that extend three nautical miles from the coast under a federal law known as the Submerged Lands Act.
"International ships running in international waters under international treaties should be handled under international laws," said T.L. Garrett, vice president of the association, which represents about 60 ocean carrier lines and cargo terminals. "We know it's the right thing to do. The question is, 'Who should be telling us to do it?'"
Shippers last year won in federal court when they blocked a 2006 California regulation requiring large ships to use cleaner fuel in their auxiliary engines. A federal judge ruled the state did not have the authority to set shipping emission standards without the approval of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The latest California regulation defines the pollution standards as a fuel requirement, a strategy state regulators say does not require them to get federal permission.
A ban on bunker fuel
It would ban ships from using so-called bunker fuel, a dirty, heavy crude oil that has the consistency of asphalt and must be heated onboard the ships to power the engines.
Beginning July 1, 2009, ocean-going vessels will have to switch to a more expensive but cleaner-burning marine fuel to power their engines and auxiliary boilers when they sail within 24 nautical miles of California's coast.
The rules apply to ships headed to ports in the San Francisco Bay area, Los Angeles, Long Beach and San Diego, as well as inland ports for ocean-going vessels in Sacramento and Stockton.
Military, government and research vessels would be exempt, as will those ships that will be modified to comply with the regulation.
In 2006, ships made nearly 11,000 port calls in California, a number that is expected to rise with the increase in international trade. Without new regulations, vessel emissions are projected to more than double by 2020, according to state air regulators.