Yes, I know that's a lot of three letter acronyms in one sentence, but it's good news for port communities and the health of the citizens of this country (and continent) as a whole. Let me explain.
The IMO is the International Maritime Organization (an agency of the United Nations). In early 2009, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) had asked the IMO, on behalf of the US Government, to create a 230-mile buffer zone in the waters around the United States within which ships would have to use lower sulfur fuel, thereby reducing emissions including SOx, NOx, and Particulate Matter. This buffer zone, jointly requested by the Canadian government, is called the North American Emissions Control Area (ECA).
The good news has come, via an EPA press release (here), that this proposal has been adopted by the IMO, despite some protests from the cruise industry in particular, (story here). These protests came despite the fact that the EPA has stated that cruise ship pollution alone kills 8,300 people a year in the US and Canada.
This rule will apply to all large commercial ships using these waters - including container ships, oil tankers and cruise ships. Currently these ships commonly use extra-dirty diesel or bunker fuel that has sulfur levels up to 1000 times more than regular diesel and the resultant emissions contain substances that the EPA has labeled "likely carcinogens".
The EPA press release states -
"Enforcing the stringent ECA standards will reduce sulfur content in fuel by 98 percent - slashing particulate matter emissions by 85 percent, and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions by 80 percent. To achieve these reductions, tougher sulfur standards will phase in starting in 2012, ultimately reaching no more than 1,000 parts per million by 2015."
Also this from EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson -
“This is a change that will benefit millions of people and set in motion new innovations for the shipping industry. We’re gratified by the IMO’s decision to help keep our air clean and our communities healthy ..... The sulfur, particulate emissions and other harmful pollutants from large ships reach from our ports to communities hundreds of miles inland -- bringing with them health, environmental and economic burdens. Cleaning up our shipping lanes will be a boon to communities across North America.”
Also, the press release goes on to state that as a result of the cleaner air, "nearly five million people will experience relief from acute respiratory symptoms in 2020 and as many as 14,000 lives will be saved each year."
Again, this will be phased in over a number of years, and its implementation will not diminish the need for the further cleaning of ships and the activities of ports through the use of "shore power" and the creation of "clean truck" programs. But it's certainly a great step forward and will bring great health benefits to the residents of port communities such as Red Hook, Brooklyn, the greater City of New York and the nation as a whole.