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Shipping Goes Up, Pollution Goes Down: U.S. EPA Issues Final Rule for Diesel Emissions

U.S. EPA issues new rule to cut diesel emissions from large ships.Diesel pollution from the shipping industry should be expected to soar in the near future as shipping traffic increases, but the U.S. EPA has just taken an important step toward nipping the emissions trend in the bud.  On December 22 the agency announced that it has finalized a tougher rule for engines and fuel on U.S.-flagged ships, bringing this country in accord with more sustainable international standards.


The new rule is part of an overall effort to reduce diesel emissions and other forms of air pollution along the coasts of Canada and the U.S.  It is an early Christmas present for port cities, which are most directly affected by diesel emissions from ships.  It is also expected to have a positive impact on air quality in inland areas as well, affecting millions of U.S residents.

More Shipping, Not More Pollution

The EPA rule is also part of an international strategy to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter from large ships such as cargo ships and oil tankers.  Once fully implemented, the effort is expected to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 80 percent and particulate matter emissions by 85%, despite the anticipated increase in shipping traffic.  The EPA estimates that the cost of implementing the new rules is about $3 billion, which will be far outweighed by the $270 billion value of the anticipated health benefits.

U.S EPA, Coastal Communities, and International Shipping

The new diesel emissions rules affect the large “Category 3” diesel engines, which are the main propulsion engines on most ocean-going ships.  The rule-making process also involves designating an official Emissions Control Area for thousands miles of coastline in the U.S. and Canada.  The formal designation is needed in order to enable the U.S. EPA rule to affect ships other than those with U.S. flags.  In March 2010, a United Nations agency is scheduled to vote on adopting the EPA rules.  That move would in effect place the EPA standards on all ships operating in the designated area, whether domestic or foreign.

Cleaner Ships on the Horizon

Reducing emissions from diesel engines is only part of the maritime industry’s turn toward more sustainable practices.  Some companies are even experimenting with a return to wind powered shipping.  Controlling the buildup of barnacles and other organisms on ship’s hulls is another important means of increasing efficiency and reducing emissions.  The U.S. Navy and the University of Florida are among the research institutions developing more sustainable biocides and high-tech coatings that would be more effective and less toxic than the chemicals currently in use.

Image: Emissions from cargo ship by robylab, on

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