Alaska sues over new fuel standard for ships

By Becky Bohrer

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, July 22 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

JUNEAU, Alaska — Alaska has sued to block enforcement of rules intended to limit pollution from large ships, saying the rules will result in higher freight rates and pricier cruises that will hurt the state's economy.

New rules set to take effect Aug. 1 will require that cargo carriers and cruise ships use a low-sulfur fuel within 200 miles of U.S. and Canadian shores. While the rules, initiated by the U.S. and agreed to by dozens of other nations as part of an international treaty, affect much of the North American coast and Hawaii, officials in Alaska say they will have a disproportionate effect on the state and want to keep them from being enforced in waters off Alaska's coast.

About 90 percent of the commodities entering Alaska are delivered through a single port — the Port of Anchorage — and many southeast Alaska communities rely heavily on revenues from the cruise trade to survive. The state, relying on industry estimates, said the rules could increase shipping costs to the state by 8 percent and cruise passenger costs up to $18 a day, potentially leading to a 15 percent decline in visitors. The lawsuit was filed July 13 in U.S. District Court in Anchorage.

The Republican members of the state's congressional delegation see the rules as an example of how out-of-touch with Alaska the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which proposed the rules, is. The president of the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce, Rachael Petro, said the rules will amount to a cost of living increase for all Alaskans, with companies passing their increased fuel costs onto consumers.

She said she knows of no documented pollution issues that would necessitate the new rules taking effect here. "It's completely unjustified," she said, "and that's disconcerting."

A cruise industry critic, Chip Thoma, dismissed as "made-up" the projected decline in cruise passenger numbers and said the state should be embracing the rules as the environmentally responsible thing to do.

Whit Sheard, Pacific counsel and senior advisor for the conservation group Oceana, called the state's decision to sue a "bit of a knee-jerk reaction." While balancing environmental protection and human health concerns and commerce can be delicate at times, he said the old maxim — the "polluter pays" — is how you deal with it.

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 impacts 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 the U.S. and Canada. It estimates that by 2020, the overall cost of implementing the rules will be $3.2 billion while monetized health-related benefits could be as high as $110 billion in the U.S. alone.

Margo Oge, director of EPA's Office of Transportation and Air Quality, considers the program one of the most cost-effective the agency has ever designed.

Officials in California, home to two of the largest ports in the nation, say the new rules will be stepping up those the state voluntarily enacted on its own to reduce diesel emissions. A spokeswoman for that state's Air Resources Board said the steps have already paid off.

The rules were first proposed in 2007; since at least 2009, when EPA began working on regulations, the governor and members of the congressional delegation have pushed back against the plan.

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