New US ship emission rules ban high-sulphur fuel

The US EPA has drafted rules that would prohibit the production and sale of high-sulphur marine fuel. Shipping interests have negotiated exemptions for some old steamers.

In mid-November, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sent draft new rules that would prohibit the production and sale of high-sulphur marine fuel and limit ship emissions to the White House for review.

The regulation is a part of a broader strategy to slash harmful emissions from shipping. In March, the United States and Canada asked the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to designate an emission control area (ECA) within 200 nautical miles of the North American coast, a move that would tighten emission standards on all ships operating in those waters (see AN 2/09). The IMO is expected to formally approve the request at the next meeting of its Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) in March 2010, and the designation would come into effect in 2012.

The EPA announced its draft rule to limit emissions from ocean-going ships in July, published it in late August, and the comment period closed on 28 September. In their comments, several Great Lakes shipping interests requested the Great Lakes should be excluded from the low-sulphur fuel regulation. Eventually, in late October, a compromise was found that would effectively exempt 13 very old US flagged steamships that haul iron ore, coal and other freight on the Great Lakes from the proposed federal rule.

EPA is under a legal deadline to finalize the rule by 17 December. If finalized, the draft rule would drastically cut air pollution nationwide by requiring US-flagged vessels with large diesel engines (so-called category 3 engines) to curb their emissions of sulphur and nitrogen oxides. The proposed emissions limits for nitrogen oxides are equivalent to those adopted by the IMO in the revised MARPOL Annex VI (see AN 4/08, p. 6).

EPA is also proposing to forbid the production and sale of marine fuel oil with sulphur content above 1,000 ppm (0.10%) for use in the waters within the proposed US ECA and internal US waters.
According to the EPA, air pollution from large ships, such as oil tankers and cargo ships, is expected to more than double in the next twenty years, if no action is taken. Implementation of the domestic and international strategy is expected to reduce annual emissions from large marine diesel engines in 2030 of nitrogen oxides (NOx) by about 1.2 million tons, sulphur dioxide emissions by 1.3 million tons and particulate matter (PM) emissions by about 143,000 tons.

Compared to current (2009) emissions, the coordinated effort would by 2030 reduce sulphur emissions from these ships by 87 per cent, PM emissions by 65 per cent, and NOx emissions by four per cent.

The emission reductions from the proposed strategy would yield significant health and welfare benefits that would span beyond US ports and coastlines, reaching inland areas. EPA estimates that in 2030, this would prevent between 13,000 and 33,000 premature deaths, 1.5 million work days lost, and 10 million minor restricted-activity days.

The estimated annual health benefits in 2030 amount to between US$110 and 280 billion, and the annual costs are projected at approximately US$3.1 billion, resulting in a benefit-to-cost ratio as high as a ninety to one.

For more information, see EPA’s website:

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