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California Government Approves Law to Regulate Ocean Vessel Emissions

July 25, 2008 By: Kirk Cassels

The California Air Resources Board Thursday approved the toughest rules in the U.S. to reduce polluting emissions from ocean-going ships that use the state's ports, the Associated Press reports. The fuel mandate requires domestic and international cargo ships, tankers and cruise vessels that sail in and out of California ports to use cleaner fuel to power their engines and boilers.

The rule will apply to ships headed into and out of ports in the San Francisco Bay area, Los Angeles, Long Beach, San Diego, Sacramento and Stockton. Military, government and research vessels would be exempt as would ships that need modifications so they can use cleaner fuels until their equipment renovations were completed.

"The lives saved by the action we took today are significant," said Jerry Hill, a member of the California Air Resources Board.

The rules, adopted unanimously by the board, have already received disapproval from international shipping companies, who claim that California has no jurisdiction to regulate operations outside the state's coastal zone. The rule adopted by the state would cover ships within 24 nautical miles of the coast.

Citing the Submerged Lands Act, a federal law that states California may regulate ships within three nautical miles of its coast, the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association (PMSA) said California can only regulate ships within state waters and that the new law goes beyond local jurisdiction.

"International ships running in international waters under international treaties should be handled under international laws," said T.L. Garrett, vice president of the PMSA.

The new California law defines the pollution standards as a fuel requirement, which state officials say does not require them to get federal permission. It would prohibit ships from using bunker fuel (a crude oil that must be heated onboard the ships for power) and require them to switch to a pricier, but cleaner, fuel to power the engines and auxiliary boilers that heat water on the ship. First-time offenders would be fined $44,500, and  $227,500 for repeat offenses.

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