EPA Lauded For Its Actions To Curb Ship Pollution At California’s Ports

Credit: Smaart company

Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved the California Air Resources Board (CARB) waiver request for the At-berth ocean going vessel rule. This regulation is a first step towards ending fossil-fueled shipping in California waters and at the ports. The At-berth regulation is essential to reducing air pollution in California and protecting the health of millions of Californians who are most impacted by emissions from diesel-powered ships.

Steering Pollution Issues

“It’s always good to see California in the driver’s seat on air pollution issues, and it’s especially good to see EPA back the Golden State as it’s done today,” said Regina Hsu, senior attorney on Earthjustice’s Right To Zero campaign. CARB’s At-berth rule was slated to go into effect at the beginning of 2023, but implementation has been delayed due to the threat of a Big Shipping industry lawsuit and delay at the federal EPA. Then, in March 2023, the Newsom administration and the California Air Resources Board announced a roll-back for At-berth regulations, allowing shipping companies to go back to regulations set 16 years ago that was weaker and less health protective.

“We applaud today’s action by the EPA to clean up ocean shipping and ports. The shipping industry is one of the world’s biggest polluters, but it has been sailing under the radar for decades. Today, the shipping industry will be held accountable for the pollution it generates while idling at our ports. Now, we call on the state of California to move to zero-emissions ships by 2040, and for other states to follow California’s lead by adopting the At-berth rule,” said Teresa Bui, Climate Policy Director, Pacific Environment. The At-berth rule offers critical protection for port communities, and is projected to reduce cancer risk by 55% for millions of Californians living near the Ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Richmond. CARB estimates that between 2021 and 2032, the updated At-Berth policy will save 237 lives, yield $2.31 billion in public health benefits and reduce NOx emissions by 17,5000 tons and carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions by 356,000 metric tons.

One Step Closer

Under the regulations, container, reefer and cruise vessels will be required to plug into electric shore-power when idling at California ports. The rule added new vessel types and visits (auto carriers and tankers), as well as new ports and terminals, requiring regulated vessels to either plug into shore power while at-berth or use an alternative CARB-approved emissions control technology to reduce emissions of NOx and diesel particulate matter at berth. “Today, with EPA’s authorization of the At-Berth Rule, Californians are now one step closer to cleaner air. We applaud the EPA for its decision and California for its continued leadership on what should be a national model to eliminate emissions from the shipping industry. We urge other states to follow California’s lead and for Congress to pass the Clean Shipping Act. Everyone should be able to breathe clean air and the Clean Shipping Act will eliminate emissions from all ships at-berth or at-anchor in all U.S. ports by 2030,” said Carrie Bonfield, Shipping Emissions Analyst, Ocean Conservancy.

In California, ship emissions are the top cancer causing emissions at the port of Oakland, Long Beach and Los Angeles. Long Beach and Los Angeles port-adjacent communities, including West Long Beach, Wilmington, and San Pedro, already experience up to 8 years lower life expectancy than the Los Angeles County average. According to the City of Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services, Black Long Beach residents are hospitalized with asthma at eight times the rate of white residents, and Latinx residents at twice the rate of white residents, who live further from the Port. Globally, 265,000 premature deaths were projected for 2020 attributable to global shipping-sourced emissions.

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Source: Earthjustice