Five years ago, the Bush administration proposed legislation prohibiting the use of maritime fuels with high sulfur content within 200 miles of the U.S. The Obama administration had the bill passed into law. In turn, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) announced that it planned to create a buffer zone around the U.S. and Canada where ships would be prohibited from burning the world’s dirtiest transportation fuel – bunker fuel.
The new regulations are suppose to go into effect shortly. The container shipping industry states that it intends to meet the new standards. But the cruise industry, which vigorously opposed the legislation and IMO regulations in the first place, states that it cannot comply with the pollution laws.
The health risks posed by the cruise industry’s use of high sulfur fuels are enormous. I published an article years ago called "Bunker Fuel – Nasty Tar Sludge! which explains how bunker fuel – which is a tar-like substance – is the nastiest and most toxic fuel on planet earth. It is unconscionable to burn it.
Today the Washington Post puts the issue into greater perspective:
"The gleaming white Sapphire Princess docked in this deep-water port (Whittier Alaska) this month, unloading its passengers and taking on another 2,600 guests headed first to Glacier Bay and, eventually, Vancouver, B.C. Every day of that trip the cruise ship — whose web site invites passengers to see Alaska’s “pristine landscapes” — will emit the same amount of sulfur dioxide as 13.1 million cars, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, and as much soot as 1.06 million cars . . .
The new rule requires large ships to cut the sulfur content of their fuel, which now averages 2.7 percent, down to 1 percent next month; in 2015 it must drop to 0.1 percent.
The EPA estimates that the new rules will avoid between 12,000 and 31,000 premature deaths each year by 2030, with the benefits outweighing the costs 95 to 1. Put another way, when the stricter limit goes into effect in 2015 it will be akin to taking 12.7 million cars off the road per day and eliminating their sulfur dioxide emissions, or the soot from 900,000 cars. Air pollutants from burning ship fuel off the Pacific Coast contribute to lung disease and affect air quality as far away as North Dakota, according to agency officials."
The cruise lines (and curiously enough, the State of Alaska) have launched what the Post calls a "counter-offensive" against the pollution law.
According to the Post, once the new law is fully implemented and the additional costs of the cleaner fuel are passed on to the consumer. cruising will cost about $7 per day more. The cruise industry claims that it could add as much as $19.46 a day per passenger.
The cruise lines claim that the cleaner fuel will hurt their business. The Republican lawmakers in Alaska, under intense cruise line lobbying, profess that the new law is bad for tourism. When cruise ships are required to burn .1% sulfur fuel in 2015, cruising may cost $50 to $100 a week more. But the EPA claims that tens of thousands of lives will be saved each year with annual benefits in reduced health care expenses between $47 billion and $110 billion.
The cruise industry has tried to use the court system to avoid air pollution laws before. Last year,the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the cruise and shipping industries, holding that the state of California can regulate the cruise industry and require vessels that call on the state’s ports to use cleaner fuel.
The cruise industry and its trade organization, Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), have a paradoxical relationship with the air and water around their cruise ships. They market themselves as environmentally friendly but, in truth, they are hardly the steward of the air and seas. They are the single greatest threat to the clean air and water of Alaska.
Consider the photo below of a Royal Caribbean cruise ship in Alaska, filling the bay up with toxic fumes from bunker fuel.
Chart credit: Washington Post
Photo credit: Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas cruise ship – AlaskanLibrarian’s Flickr photostream