WASHINGTON – The heavy fuel that oceangoing vessels burn adds so much to air pollution hundreds of miles inland that the United States joined with Canada during President George W. Bush’s administration to ask the International Maritime Organization to create an emissions-control area along the coasts.
Large ships would be required to reduce pollution dramatically in a zone 200 miles out to sea along all the coasts of North America, mainly by using cleaner fuel.
The cargo-shipping industry supported the stringent emission reductions. The cruise-ship industry, however, wants an emissions-averaging plan that would allow it to burn the same heavy fuel it always has used in some areas, and it’s lobbying Congress for help.
The industry’s lobby group in Washington, D.C., has got Democratic and Republican lawmakers to press the Environmental Protection Agency to look favorably on the industry’s averaging plan. The EPA is pushing back, saying the industry’s plan would lead to an increase in emissions. For now, the EPA is unyielding, but pressure is building.
Washington state’s Democratic U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell are among the lawmakers asking the agency to consider the cruise ship industry’s view.
The emissions-control area goes into effect in August. The International Maritime Organization plan requires fuel with less sulfur inside the zone, with reductions phased in through 2015. Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper agreed to the approach in 2006.
Cleaner fuel costs more than the sulfur-rich bunker oil that ships use today. The EPA estimated that the price increase on a seven-day Alaska cruise would be 1.5 percent to 6 percent.
The online trade publication Sustainable Shipping reported that cruise companies don’t want to pass on too much of the cost for fear of reducing customer demand, so the industry’s profits might decline. A study for the industry projected fewer cruises to Alaska, Canada and the Caribbean, as well as job losses.
Miami-based Carnival Corp., the world’s biggest cruise company, reported $1.9 billion in profits last year. Carnival spokesman Aly Bello-Cabreriza declined to comment and referred questions to the industry lobby group, Cruise Lines International Association. Other cruise companies also declined to comment.
Cruise Lines International Association has proposed a complicated emissions-averaging plan that would allow ships to continue to burn high-sulfur fuel sometimes. An advantage would be lower costs, the association’s director of environmental and health programs, Charles Darr, said in an April PowerPoint presentation.
The method would allow a ship to vary its emissions based on such issues as weather conditions and location. Ships would switch to cleaner fuels near heavily populated areas.
Officials of the EPA and the Coast Guard opposed the Cruise Lines International Association plan in a letter March 12 to International Maritime Organization Secretary-General Koji Sekimizu.
“After analysis, we believe the cruise lines proposal is unacceptable because it would result in overall higher emissions and doesn’t meet public expectations of uniform delivery of health and environmental benefits for citizens of the United States,” wrote Jeffrey G. Lantz, the Coast Guard’s director of commercial regulations and standards, and Margo Tsirigotis Oge, the director of the EPA’s office of transportation and air quality.
Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida also has written to the EPA asking it to consider the industry’s views.
The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency also supports those standards. It said in a letter to the Transportation subcommittee last week that Seattle, Tacoma and Vancouver, B.C., had been preparing for the EPA plan for years. Seattle, for example, has provided financial incentives for oceangoing vessels to burn low-sulfur fuel while in port.