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California Court Allows Ship Emissions Rules to Extend Beyond State's Jurisdiction

By The Maritime Executive 03-30-2011 04:47:23

On Tuesday the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the maritime industry’s appeals to California’s offshore air pollution rules that would require vessel’s to use low-sulfur fuel within 24 miles of the coast.

The Air Resources board who adopted the rules in July 2009 says the rules will increase port calls for ships by $30,000 per ship, or an estimated $360 million a year. However, the board says the cost is minimal when broken down by cargo, adding just 12.5 cents to the cost of a plasma TV.

Experts say the new ruling will reduce sulfur emissions by 90 percent, prevent nearly 100,000 cases of asthma and an estimated 3,500 premature deaths.

In 2015 similar regulations from the federal government will be imposed to the 200 mile economic zone around the U.S.

The Pacific Merchant Shipping Association successfully appealed California emissions regulations back in 2008. In that case as in this one, the association argued that federal law prohibits states to regulate air pollution beyond 3 miles from the coast.

Despite the 3-mile rule, the court upheld the strict regulations, citing the serious need to protect California and its residents.  The three-member panel had this to say in their ruling: “In the end, we acknowledge the unusual characteristics and circumstances of California’s regulation. We are clearly dealing with an expansive and even possibly unprecedented state regulatory scheme. However, the severe environmental problems confronting California are themselves unusual and even unprecedented.”

John McLauri, President of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association released the following statement regarding the ruling:

“While we are disappointed with today’s ruling, the maritime industry will continue its numerous, successful efforts to reduce emissions from vessels that travel not only in California’s waters but in oceans around the world.  The worldwide container fleet will continue to be in compliance with all state, federal and international laws and we look forward to the full implementation of the offshore emissions control area by the United States and Canada, which has been sanctioned by the International Maritime Organization.

The maritime industry is working in earnest to reduce environmental impacts to the maximum extent feasible at the earliest possible date.  We continue to believe that this is an issue that requires global and national solutions rather than a patchwork approach that could vary state-by-state.  

The state’s requirements on how vessels must be operated 24 nautical miles offshore, when the state’s jurisdiction ends only 3 miles beyond the coastline, remains a unique attempt to expand its authority. 

The ruling handed down today by the Ninth Circuit panel is without precedent and only reaffirms that this is a novel application of state authority.  Even after this ruling, it is only through the application of consistent and harmonized federal and international standards that meaningful and sustainable emission reductions from ships engaged in international trade on the high seas will be obtained.”

The association said they are considering another appeal.