State files suit to block new fuel rules on ocean vessels
An F-22 Raptor flies over the M/V North Star as it prepares to unload at the Port of Anchorage in a 2010 photo. The State of Alaska is suing several federal agencies over new fuel standards set to kick in Aug. 1 that will drive up the cost of all goods transported via companies such as Totem Ocean Trailer Express, which owns the North Star.
The state of Alaska has filed suit in federal court to block the Aug. 1 imposition of strict emissions limits on marine shipping from the U.S. west coast to Alaska.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has established the North American Emissions Control Area covering the west coast and Alaska and has set new rules requiring the use of low-sulfur fuels.
“The regulations will mean greatly increased shipping costs to Alaska and will also harm the state’s tourism sector,” because they will apply to cruise ships, state Attorney General Michael Geraghty said in a statement.
The state contends the rules cover a vast area, extending out 200 miles from shore, and were set without following a scientific procedure. The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Anchorage.
Vessel operators will be required to use fuel with sulfur not exceeding 1 percent sulfur on Aug. 1. Shipping companies say they will face difficulties obtaining the fuel, and will have to ask suppliers to blend special stock of diesel now being used with 15 parts-per-million ultra-lower sulfur diesel now used by trucking firms and others on land.
Emissions control areas are more typically established in specific areas of congestion where there is a deterioration of air quality, said Richard Berkowitz, with the Transportation Institute, a shipping trade group. However, EPA’s new North American Emissions Control Area extends from California to Southcentral Alaska, ending at a point west of Cook Inlet.
One of the major marine cargo companies operating to Alaska, Totem Ocean Trailer Express Inc., estimates that the higher costs of low sulfur fuel it will be required to use will raise shipping costs by about 8 percent. There may be additional costs when more stringent emissions rules for 0.1 percent sulfur diesel apply in 2015.
In its suit, the state contends that EPA established the enforcement zone with incomplete data, and said EPA has acknowledged that it failed to perform air modeling in Alaska, but that modeling was done in other areas covered by the emissions control zone.
The EPA has also acknowledged, in responses to the state’s comments on its rules, that Alaska enjoys air quality that is generally cleaner than National Ambient Air Quality Standards used by the agency as a baseline for measuring deteriorated air quality.
EPA said its justification for including Alaska in the emissions control zone, absent the modeling, was that most of Alaska’s population lives near coasts and that there is an easterly component of winds near populated areas.
“Based on that, the U.S. (EPA) concluded that, “it is reasonable to expect ships are contributing to ambient air concentrations of ozone and PM2.5 in Hawaii and Alaska even though our modeling does not allow us to quantify those effects,” the agency said in support of the rule.
“Alaska relies heavily on maritime traffic, both for goods shipped to and from the state and for the cruise ship passengers who support thousands of Alaska jobs,” Geraghty said. “There are reasonable and equally effective alternatives for the EPA to consider which would still protect the environment but dramatically reduce the severe impact these regulations will have on Alaskan jobs and families.”
Berkowitz said the emissions control area boundaries are drawn in arbitrary ways, ending at a point just west of Cook Inlet, in Southcentral Alaska but do not cover the Aleutian Islands in southwest Alaska or the port of Dutch Harbor, one of the nation’s busiest fisheries ports.
Also, several thousand foreign-flagged cargo vessels transit Unimak Pass in the Aleutians, which is near Dutch Harbor, each year on the Asia-North America Great Circle shipping route.