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Tuesday, October 16, 2018

US ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY RETREATS FROM MARPOL ANNEX VI

As national and regional regulation of landside sources of air pollution have been implemented, international awareness of vessel contributions to substandard air quality has increased. In many industrialized countries, port areas fail to meet acceptable air quality levels because of a combination of emissions from automobiles, diesel locomotives, over -the- road and yard shuttle tractors, fuel storage and fuel transfer operations, shoreside industries, and emissions from marine diesel engines of all sizes.

While most of these sources can be regulated on a national or even local basis, the regulation of emissions from Category 3 large marine diesels used in international trade must occur pursuant to international consensus on both standards and methods of enforcement.

 In 1997 a US IMO delegation joined other maritime nations in approving Annex VI of the International Convention on Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL). This Annex addresses air emissions from marine diesel engines and establishes limits on both oxides of nitrogen and sulphur ( NOx and Sox).  The convention also addresses issues such as the release of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the atmosphere. The ratification protocols of Annex VI provide that the convention becomes effective upon ratification by 15 nations representing at least 50 per cent of the world’s shipping tonnage.

The US played an active role in the negotiation of Annex VI. Unlike many IMO issues in which the United States Coast Guard has taken the lead, the US Environmental Protection Agency played a pivotal role in advancing a strong US position in favour of global emissions restraints on vessels. The active participation of the United States in advocating a global structure for addressing vessel source air pollution issues was widely regarded among responsible elements of industry as a positive step.

INTERTANKO’s US representatives report that, despite the prominent US role in negotiating Annex VI, virtually no action has been taken within the US Government to advance the matter for ratification by the Senate of the United States. Inquiries from INTERTANKO’s personnel have traced the cause for the delay to the US Environmental Protection Agency, the agency most involved in the initial US approval of the instrument in 1997.

Despite early US support for Annex VI, EPA staff appear to have had second thoughts both about the efficacy of the standards for NOx and SOx emissions set forth in the Annex, and the issue of whether the United States should attempt to regulate vessel emissions unilaterally under domestic legislation and regulations. Consequently, EPA has not advanced Annex VI within the affected agencies of the United States Government and has withheld the convention from intra-governmental discussion in the expectation that the Annex will fall of its own weight if the United States fails to act. EPA has stated that it will proceed with domestic regulations and will eventually advocate stronger emissions standards on an international basis.

INTERTANKO’s US representative, acting in cooperation with allies in the American Petroleum Institute (API), the Chamber of Shipping of America , the World Shipping Council (WSC) and the Transportation Institute, has met with EPA officials and has confirmed initial concerns that EPA staff personnel are consciously letting Annex VI languish without action by other affected organs of the Government of the United States. Efforts have been undertaken to elevate the matter to policy levels within the Executive Branch of the United States Government and to seek prompt ratification of Annex VI by the necessary number of flag states.

While the matter bears superficial resemblance to recent US retreats from international environmental controls on so-called greenhouse gasses and other international accords, the operative dynamics within the EPA appear to be driven by objections to Annex VI from domestic US environmental groups who deem the standards of Annex VI to be too lenient. INTERTANKO has promoted uniform international solutions through the structure of IMO as preferable to unilateral national legislation. A major issue facing the United States is whether there can be any effective regulation of non-US-flag vessels calling in the United States absent international accords on the issue.

As the EPA becomes increasingly involved in pollution control matters affecting international vessel operations, it is important that the advantages of uniform international standards be understood and accepted by that agency. INTERTANKO has advocated to the US Government that the EPA staff position be reassessed with a view to ensuring US engagement in the development of rational and effective international marine standards. As the matter develops, further reports will be issued in the Weekly NEWS.