EPA, Carnival agree to Emission Control Area exemption
This May 2 file photo shows The Carnival Miracle docked in Juneau. The nation’s largest cruise ship company will adopt technology from power plants and automobiles to reduce air pollution from the massive diesel engines powering its ships. In a tentative agreement reached Thursday with the Environmental Protection Agency, Carnival Corp. will deploy scrubbers to reduce sulfur dioxide and filters to trap soot on as many as 32 ships over the next three years. At port, ships will plug into the electrical grid, rather than idle, to reduce pollution.
The world’s largest cruise company may have given ship operators a new template for complying with pending environmental regulations.
In a Sept. 5 release, Carnival Corp. announced an agreement with U.S. and Canadian agencies to invest $180 million in emission-reduction technology on 32 of its Carnival Cruise Lines ships to comply with the joint-government Emission Control Area, or ECA, standards.
Approved as an amendment to the U.N. treaty Marpol in 2010, ECA standards require ships operating within 200 miles of the U.S. or Canadian coasts to use fuel containing less than 0.1 percent sulfur by 2015. A 1 percent sulfur limit on fuel took effect in August 2012.
“This is a significant accomplishment as well as an important milestone for our company,” Carnival Corp. President and CEO Arnold Donald said in the release. “Working together with the EPA, U.S. Coast Guard and Transport Canada, we have developed a breakthrough solution for cleaner air that will set a new course in environmental protection for years to come.”
Carnival Cruise Lines has until mid-2016 to add the “sulfur scrubbers” to its ships’ exhaust systems. The $180 million cost to install the diesel particulate filters is about half the cost of running the ships on ultra low-sulfur fuel — the originally prescribed method of ECA compliance — over the next few years.
Parent Carnival Corp. owns Carnival Cruise Lines, Princess Cruises and Holland America Line and operates them as separate entities.
The control area was instituted as a way to improve air quality in U.S. and Canadian ports. EPA projects the tighter emissions standards will reduce sulfur emissions by 920,000 tons before 2020.
Alaska cruise industry representatives have said ECA standards would increase ship operating costs by up to $150 per passenger in their final implementation phase by 2015. The concern was that ECA would negatively impact the state’s cruise business because the Alaska-bound ships — as well as freight transporters — travel completely within the 200-mile limit.
John Binkley, president of Cruise Lines International Association Alaska (formerly the Alaska Cruise Association), said the industry has been in favor of reducing emissions, but balked at EPA’s direction on how to achieve the goals using the more expensive ultra-low sulfur diesel. Carnival’s announcement illustrates what the private sector can do when it is given freedom to solve a problem, Binkley said.
“Why not let industry and technology determine what the best way to meet the requirements are instead of just dictating, well, you have to burn this expensive fuel?” he said.
Other cruise lines in the state are working on similar agreements with EPA, Binkley said, and he hopes they can be reached so the agency’s objectives can be met without being “economically punitive to Alaskans.”
Carnival has not finalized which of its ships will be included in the exemption and receive the exhaust scrubbers, but ships operating in Alaska are at the top of the list because of the extended time they spend in ECA waters, company Vice President of Public Affairs Tom Dow wrote in an email.
The exemption will allow the Alaska routes to stay competitive in the world cruise market, he wrote.
In August 2012, Alaska shipping giant Totem Ocean Trailer Express Inc., or TOTE, began the process of converting its two 840-foot Orca-class vessels that service Anchorage from what’s known as Bunker C fuel oil to liquefied natural gas as part of its own emissions exemption agreement with EPA.
Gov. Sean Parnell’s office issued a statement a day after EPA’s agreement with Carnival was made public and called ECA standards an unfair penalty to Alaska because the state’s remote geography already raises the cost of living because 85 percent of its goods arrive via ocean routes.
The State of Alaska has a lawsuit pending against EPA over the control area rules. The state claims that the agency improperly entered into an international treaty without the approval of Congress.
“I am heartened that the EPA is responding by allowing other options to be used to reduce emissions, rather than mandating the use of cost-prohibitive, low-sulfur fuel,” Parnell said. “Alaska must remain a competitive cruise destination so Alaska’s small and mid-sized businesses can flourish.”
Parnell also noted in his statement that Lynden Inc. has reported a six percent increase in shipping cost caused by compliance with the ECA.
Alaska’s Congressional delegation has also criticized the EPA rules, saying the emissions mandates were instituted without thorough scientific research.
Elwood Brehmer can be reached at email@example.com.