In a move cheered by environmentalists and public health groups but opposed by the oil industry, the Biden administration approved new rules aimed at reducing the amount of air pollution emitted by large ships when they docked at the coastal ports of the state.
The ships – which can be more than 800 feet long and 100 feet wide – emit soot from large diesel engines and boilers when they sit in dock, sometimes for days. That pollution can affect communities in waterfront cities like Oakland, Richmond, Los Angeles, Long Beach and San Diego, increasing the risk of asthma, heart attacks and other health problems.
Since 2007, California has required large cargo ships and cruise ships to plug into the local power grid to get electricity when they arrive at a port, so their engines and boilers don’t shut down, a practice that reduces of air pollution.
The new rules, approved by the US Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday and published in the Federal Register on Friday, expand the requirements to include oil tankers, chemical tankers and car carriers. They will be phased in between now and January 1, 2027.
Officials of the California Air Resources Board say that tankers and car carriers emit 56% of all particulate pollution from ships berthed in California, and that the new rules, which it passed in 2020 , saving 237 lives, and providing $2.3 billion to the public. saving health in 2032.
“Pollution from ocean-going ships creates toxic air for people living near ports and increases smog in the region,” said Bill Magavern, policy director of the Coalition for Clean Air, a group environment with offices in Sacramento and Los Angeles. “This rule will help people in port communities and in California’s coastal regions breathe healthier air.”
Air pollution in port cities has increased during the COVID pandemic, when many ships are backing up at ports.
The shipping industry opposes California’s new rules. This contradicts the way emissions are calculated. Under the original rule, total emissions from a port company’s shipping fleet must be reduced by 50% in 2014 from 2007 levels, then 70% in 2017 and 80% in 2020. The new rule requires a 90% reduction, but from each ship, rather than from a fleet average, said Mike Jacob, vice president of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, an industry group in Oakland.
“We’re already under an existing rule,” Jacob said. “We think the way it’s happening now is better. We’ve invested over $1.5 billion in offshore energy infrastructure. We feel like we’re going through a different process of determining whether you’re compliant or not like ‘if you don’t it’s broken don’t fix it.’ ”
The oil industry is suing over the new rules.
A tanker can comply if it plugs into the port’s power grid, or if it installs an exhaust-scrubbing device that takes the smoke from its diesel engines and boilers and cleans them.
In September 2020, the Western States Petroleum Association sued the California Air Resources Board, claiming that the technology had not yet been invented for such scrubbing devices to meet the tough standards imposed by the air board.
The association, whose members include companies such as Chevron and ExxonMobil, lost that case in Los Angeles County Superior Court. In March, it filed an appeal.
“Currently the technology does not exist to the degree that emissions should be limited,” said Kara Greene, a spokeswoman for the Western States Petroleum Association. “The air resources board says it will happen. But there are no sellers for it now.”
Environmental groups have noted that the California Air Resources Board, first established by former Governor Ronald Reagan in 1967 to reduce smog, often passes rules that set standards higher than current technology can achieve. The goal is to push the industry to invent it by the upcoming deadline.
In recent years, as smog levels in California have fallen, the agency has continued to tighten regulations on a wide variety of sources of soot pollution — called particulate pollution — including from trucks. , locomotives and other sources. Such pollution can penetrate deep into the lungs of people who breathe it regularly, increasing the risk of asthma, cancer, heart attack and other diseases, especially in low-income communities near ports, freeways , power plants, factories and railways.
Under the federal Clean Air Act, signed by former President Richard Nixon in 1970, California is allowed to set its own air pollution rules that are tougher than federal standards. If approved by the EPA, other states can copy California’s rules.
The Trump administration worked to repeal California’s rules for cars, but the Obama and Biden administrations approved them. Typically, when California’s stricter smog rules go into effect, at least a dozen other states, including New York, copy them, and they eventually become national standards.
Environmental groups this week urged other states to copy California’s new shipping pollution rules. They’re also urging California regulators to impose more smog rules on ships while they’re sailing in the state’s waters, not just when they’re sitting in port.
“It’s always good to see California in the driver’s seat on air pollution issues, and it’s even better to see the EPA back in the Golden State,” said Regina Hsu, a senior attorney at Earthjustice, a group environment based in San Francisco.