Less smoke on the water: New shipping emission rules set sail

New stricter regulations affecting emissions from ocean shipping in the U.S. and Canada have already produced results and are the latest step in reducing the carbon footprint created by the transportation industries.

As part of the new North American Emission Control Area (ECA), ships coming within 200 nautical miles of the United States and Canada are now required to burn cleaner fuels. And those standards will become even more stringent by 2015 – bringing Canada and the U.S. in line with similar European restrictions.

Many large, ocean-going ships use low-grade bunker fuel, also known as residual fuel — a by-product of traditional oil refinement and one of the dirtiest-burning oils. Bunker fuel has high sulfur content. When burned, the fuel produces high levels of sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which will oversee the program, the ECA will reduce air pollution along America’s coastline and for hundreds of miles into the interior U.S. The EPA estimates the costs of implementing and maintaining the regulated area will reach $3.2 billion by 2020. But the agency calls those costs “small” when comparing the benefits gained from reducing emissions in the area.

The emissions control area is “something that everybody recognized would be undertaken and approved to improve air quality in North America,” said Chris Koch, president of the World Shipping Council, in aninterview with Reuters. “It’s not a surprise. It’s an environmental regulation whose time has come.”

The ECA is also part of a growing trend to reduce shipping emissions. More than 50 major shipping ports across the world are already reducing their carbon emissions as part of the World Port Climate Initiative (WPCI).  One WPCI project, the Environmental Ship Index (ESI), awards deals to shipping companies that voluntarily comply with the program.  And ESI is already producing results in the U.S.