Short-sea shipping operators object to EPA’s emissions standards

A new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standard to curb exhaust emissions from ships is proving controversial in the short-sea shipping industry.

The rule, due to take effect in 2015, defines the agency’s Emission Control Area (ECA) as encompassing 200 nm around the U.S. and Canada. The rule has drawn sharp criticism from short-sea shipping executives, who testified in Washington recently that it puts an unfair burden on their industry.

The EPA seeks to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides as well as other particulate matter. The current ECA fuel sulfur limit of 10,000 parts per million will be reduced to 1,000 ppm on Jan. 1, 2015.

The agency contends that the new rule is overdue and will improve the air quality for millions who live near the ECA.

“(The ECA is) one of the most important and cost-effective environmental air programs EPA has put into place in the past decade and will annually prevent up to 31,000 premature deaths and 1.4 million workdays lost in the United States by 2030,” said EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia.

She said the EPA is not singling out any shipping concern. It is just addressing those that currently pollute the most within the 200-nm area.

“Ships that operate in the ECA more often will likely have higher fuel burn in the ECA, therefore higher fuel costs,” said the EPA. “At the same time, ships that burn more fuel in the ECA also produce proportionately more emissions.”

Rod Jones, president and chief executive of the CSL Group, sees the new rule as draconian. In testimony before the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation on March 4, Jones said the new rule penalizes short-sea shippers and that the science does not support the EPA’s claims.

“Most short-sea voyages are largely or completely within the ECA, requiring the use of higher-priced, low-sulfur fuel,” Jones said in the testimony.

He took issue with the EPA’s contention that new fuel to meet the requirement would not raise a shipper’s costs above 3 percent.

Affordable versions of the new fuel, known as sulfur intermediate fuel, are not made in large enough quantities by the petroleum industry, Jones said. That will create shortages and will force his company to use a lighter distillate fuel, known as marine gas or marine diesel oil. Jones said using that fuel would increase operating costs by 40 percent.

He said EPA did not consider that rising costs for short-sea shippers would lead to a modal shift toward truck and rail use, which would bring its own environmental concerns.

The EPA said that such a shift was considered. The agency had not performed analyses of coastwise trade, but it did study a modal shift for ships operating on the Great Lakes.  

“This analysis shows that compliance with the ECA fuel sulfur limits is unlikely to lead to transportation mode shift because ECA-adjusted marine freight rates are expected to remain well below the next least-expensive shipping mode, all rail,” the EPA said. “Rail and truck rates on the other coasts would not be expected to be very different than in the Great Lakes area, and therefore no modal shift would be expected for these coastal corridors as well.”

In some cases, however, the EPA said there would be wiggle room for shippers that the agency called “alternative methods.” The EPA said the new rule allows for the use of alternative methods provided they are as effective in reducing emissions.

One of those methods may be the use of sulfur dioxide scrubbers. Exhaust gases are cleaned in the scrubbers and whatever material does not get vented is discharged at sea. However, the impact of such releases on the marine environment has yet to be well studied.

By Professional Mariner Staff