New EPA rules target cruise ship emissions

Posted July 31, 2012, at 8:39 p.m.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — New federal rules about to go into effect are expected to reduce pollution being generated off Maine’s coast.

Starting Wednesday, Aug. 1, the Environmental Protection Agency will require cargo carriers and cruise ships to use a low-sulfur fuel within 200 miles of U.S. and Canadian shores.

The pending new rules have not been well-received in Alaska, which has filed a lawsuit aimed at preventing the new rules from going into effect.

Officials in Maine had mixed reactions Tuesday to the pending rule change.

In Bar Harbor, where there are 119 cruise ship visits scheduled for this year, harbor master Charlie Phippen said he rarely gets complaints about “billowing smoke” when the ships crank up their engines as they are about to leave port. He said he doesn’t think people will notice a difference from the cleaner-burning fuel.

“There’s relatively low impact from the ships when they are in here,” he said.

Phippen said there’s no indication that the new rules will affect the town’s cruise ship bookings, which have increased significantly over the past couple of decades. In 1990, Bar Harbor had only 22 cruise ship visits, nearly 100 fewer than the amount expected this year.

So far, there are 124 visits booked for 2013, Phippen said. There aren’t many yet scheduled for 2014, he said, but with that season two years away he’s not sure those advance bookings are coming in anymore slowly than they have in prior years.

“It’s not something we’re concerned about,” he said.

CruiseMaine Director Amy Powers said Tuesday in a voice mail message that the group is worried the new EPA rules could pose some problems.

“We are concerned that it is going to have a very negative effect in the cruise industry,” Powers said. “We’re concerned about the availability of the [lower-sulfur] fuel and the cost of the fuel.”

Further attempts Tuesday to contact Powers were unsuccessful.

EPA officials have said they’ve taken fuel availability and compatibility into account.

Vessel owners or operators who cannot obtain the required low-sulfur fuel will be allowed to make a “nonavailability” claim, the agency has indicated. If they cannot find the fuel, or if the fuel doesn’t work with their ships, they don’t have to use it. Still, they must keep documentation of their efforts and they must notify the Coast Guard before the vessel reaches port, EPA has said.

EPA officials have said the only areas where EPA is hearing about potential availability problems are Washington state and Alaska.

Officials with Acadia National Park said Tuesday that they support the new EPA rules. There have not been high levels of sulfur found in Acadia, they said, and they hope to keep it that way.

“We’re supportive of the action that the EPA and [the International Maritime Organization] have taken,” John Kelly, the park’s planner, said Tuesday. “Any regulatory controls that keep it at [low levels] is a good thing.”

Portland, the second busiest cruise ship port in Maine, is expecting to receive 59 cruise ship visits and more than 68,000 cruise ship passengers in 2012.

Nicole Clegg, the city’s spokeswoman, declined to comment Tuesday afternoon about the new EPA rules, saying she was not sure if the city has taken a stance on the new fuel rules.

Ships are large contributors to emissions from mobile sources in the U.S. and Canada, and most are foreign-flagged or registered elsewhere, according to EPA. With the new standards, set to become more stringent in 2015, emissions of nitrogen oxides, fine particulate matter and sulfur oxides are expected by 2020 to drop by 23 percent, 74 percent and 86 percent, respectively, below the levels predicted if the standards were not in effect, the agency said.

EPA said the effects will be felt hundreds of miles inland and are expected to prevent thousands of premature deaths and relieve respiratory issues for nearly 5 million people a year in North America. It estimates that by 2020, the overall cost of implementing the rules will be $3.2 billion while monetized health-related benefits in the U.S. could be as high as $110 billion.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.

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