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Court Rejecs ARB Ship Emissions Regulation

15% of California pollution comes from ships -- regulations are delayed.

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Feb 27, 2008 -- A federal appeals court rejected a state regulation that reduced emissions from ships, dealing a blow to California's attempt to combat one of the major sources of smog-forming pollution in the Los Angeles region.

The ruling means that the state must seek federal approval before imposing pollution limits on the thousands of cargo ships, cruise ships and other marine vessels that visit its ports.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that California's new regulation is preempted by federal law. The Clean Air Act allows California to set its own standards for various vehicles and engines if it receives waivers from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The state argued that in this case it didn't technically need a waiver, but the judges disagreed.

Ships sailing into the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles are considered a major source of particulates, nitrogen oxides and sulfur, pollutants that cause the region to frequently violate federal health standards.

Soot from diesel engines can lodge in lungs, triggering heart attacks, asthma and other cardiovascular and respiratory problems, scientists say. Diesel exhaust has also been linked to lung cancer.

The ruling is the second setback in two months to California's efforts to combat air pollution rather than wait for federal action. For four decades, the state has adopted its own regulations for cars, trucks, factories, consumer products and other sources of air pollution, often prompting the federal government to set similar standards.

Since the 1970s, the EPA has granted California hundreds of waivers allowing it to set its own emission standards.

But in December, the agency denied the state's request to impose standards to reduce greenhouse gases from automobiles.

The EPA administrator has argued that, unlike smog and diesel fumes, climate change is a global problem, not a state one.

The California Air Resources Board immediately stopped enforcing the ship rule Wednesday as its attorneys debated their options. They will either appeal to the Supreme Court or seek a waiver from the EPA.

Air board officials said the court ruling will delay, but not stop, emission limits on the ships.

The engines emit an estimated 1,400 tons a year of particulates in the L.A. Basin and account for about 15% of the region's diesel emissions, according to a 2005 air board report.

The Pacific Merchant Shipping Assn., a San Francisco-based group of shipping companies, filed suit to block enforcement of the rule.

Some shipping companies have already complied with the rule by switching to low-sulfur fuels, lowering speeds voluntarily or using shore-side electrical power. In 2004, nearly 10,000 oceangoing ships visited California ports, half of them container ships.

EPA approval of a waiver for the ship rule is unclear. State and local control of air pollution from ships, airplanes and railroads is controversial because of laws covering interstate commerce international scope of the issue.


Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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