EPA plans regulatory relief for certain Tier 4 engines, vessels


Despite nine years of advance notice, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing a three-year deadline extension so marine engine manufacturers and boatbuilders can meet Tier 4 emissions standards for vessels with lightweight and high-powered diesel engines.

The Savannah (Ga.) Pilots Association and New England lobstermen are among those who want to build high-speed commercial boats but are hindered by the lack of engines that meet Tier 4 standards and have a suitable power-to-density output. The EPA proposal would allow Tier 3 engines to continue to be installed while manufacturers and boatbuilders develop Tier 4-compliant vessels using diesel engines between 600 kW (804 hp) and 1,400 kW (1,877 hp).

The Tier 3 and Tier 4 marine diesel standards were adopted in 2008. The Tier 4 phase-in schedule began in 2014 for large workboats with engines at or above 2,000 kW (2,682 hp). Tier 4 standards were applied at the start of 2017 for engines from 1,000 kW to 1,400 kW (1,341 hp to 1,877 hp), and on Oct. 1, 2017, for engines from 600 kW to 900 kW (804 hp to 1,207 hp).

Since 2017, the Savannah Pilots Association has been trying to build a new version of a 7-year-old pilot boat that is on its second set of engines, said master pilot Robert “Trey” Thompson III, president of the group. The pilots want a boat with twin 1,450-hp diesels to run at 33 to 35 knots to reach inbound vessels 11 miles offshore. A channel-deepening project will extend the run to 17 to 18 miles offshore, nearly doubling the boat’s operating time. Two other pilot boats built in 1984 and 1986 also eventually will be replaced.

“We haven’t been able to build a boat since Tier 4 requirements came into effect,” Thompson said.

Current engines and accompanying Tier 4 equipment such as selective catalytic reduction (SCR) systems won’t fit into the design’s existing spaces. Also, the pilot boat must be less than 65 feet long to comply with regulations to protect right whales.

U.S. Rep. Earl “Buddy” Carter, R-Ga., was among those who pushed for the rule change on behalf of the Savannah pilots.

“The current standards have made it impossible for the bar pilots to purchase any new vessels because there simply is not a single manufacturer that can meet the requirements,” Carter said. “The new guidance will give the pilots the ability to purchase new vessels, so they are able to continue to do their important job while ensuring there won’t be any disruptions to the shipping traffic or other unnecessary delays at the port.”

The Savannah pilots had begun the process to build a new launch, but their builder, Seattle-based Vigor, couldn’t find Tier 4-compatible engines that would fit in a vessel less than 65 feet and produce the required horsepower.

In proposing the extension, the EPA recognized that building Tier 4-compliant vessels with accompanying SCR systems would require design changes to handle the engines’ greater size and weight. There currently are no certified Tier 4 engines with a power density greater than 35 kW (47 hp) per liter, the agency said.

The EPA heard public comments on the proposal Sept. 20 in Bath, Maine, and the public comment period ended Oct. 21.

By Professional Mariner Staff