California Air Board Expands Clean-Fuel Shipping Zone/EPA Steps Up Enforcement

July 6, 2010

New Clean-Fuel Boundary Will Require Greater Use of Low-Sulfur Fuels

The California Air Resources Board (“ARB”) has taken steps to ensure that a greater number of ships utilize lower-sulfur fuels while traveling the California coastline.

In response to earlier ARB regulations, many oceangoing vessels began traveling beyond the 24 nautical-mile limit, within which lower-sulfur fuels were required. This essentially moved the shipping lanes to the west of the Channel Islands, where they passed through the U.S. Navy's Point Mugu Sea Range. According to the Navy, Department of Defense testing and training missions were jeopardized because of the commercial shipping operations. In addition, because shippers using this route did not need to switch fuels, the expected emission reductions from the use of lower-sulfur fuel did not materialize.

The ARB took action by extending the state’s clean-fuel zone 24 nautical miles beyond the Channel Islands, essentially making it more costly for shippers who may wish to avoid the use of more expensive, lower-sulfur fuel. The ARB anticipates that this move will return most vessel traffic to the Santa Barbara Channel, and away from the Navy Sea Range. The agency also now expects to obtain the anticipated emission reductions from the use of cleaner fuels.

New Sulfur Limits Set for Oceangoing Vessels

The ARB also took action to delay by two years the requirement to use marine gas oil or marine diesel oil that contains no more than 0.1 percent sulfur to power main propulsion engines, auxiliary engines, and auxiliary boilers. The previous deadline had been January 1, 2012.

The new deadline is more in line with the International Maritime Organization’s requirement for the North American Emission Control Area, which established a 0.1 percent sulfur standard for fuels beginning in January, 2015.

EPA and Coast Guard Take Joint Action on Emissions from Ships

The Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) and the U.S. Coast Guard recently signed a memorandum of understanding (“MOU”) aimed at jointly enforcing laws regulating air pollution from ships in U.S. waters.

The MOU is intended to implement Annex VI of the 1973 International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (also known as the MARPOL Convention). MARPOL is administered by the International Maritime Organization. In the United States, the MARPOL Convention is enforced through the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships and its accompanying regulations.

Under the law, ships are required to control emissions of nitrogen oxides and use low-sulfur fuel, in an attempt to improve air quality in coastal regions. The MOU, and an accompanying notice letter aimed at maritime interests, makes clear that both the EPA and the Coast Guard will perform inspections and take enforcement actions with regard to federal and international air pollution requirements.