ARB takes to the waves

First the cars and trucks, then the factories, trains and earth movers. Now, the ships at sea: the Air Resources Board is entering new waters.

The ARB is going after ocean-going vessels, especially those container ships that ply the coast of California and belch soot from huge engines that burn a pollutant-rich form of diesel oil called bunker fuel. State enforcers say the new regulation–it's all but certain to be approved next month–will be the first in the world to crack down on soot over the ocean. It's part of larger plan approved in 2000 to cut diesel pollution and, as a corollary, reduce greenhouse gases that trigger climate change.

"Bunker fuel is the cheapest stuff out there, but it is also the dirtiest, the most polluting, and it has a huge amount of particulate matter," or soot, said ARB spokesman Dimitri Stanich. More than two-thirds of cancer-causing pollutants in the air come from diesel soot, he added.

Earlier, ARB regulators proposed making engine changes to clean up the vessels' emissions. That didn't work, so they proposed a new method: order fuel with lower sulfur content that burn's cleaner than crude bunker fuel.

The ARB, even though it's in the air, on land and sea, isn't the Marine Corps. It's not even the Coast Guard, so it can't board vessels that are under way.

But it does have enforcement officers, with the authority to board vessels when they are in port. Under the rule, the ships' captains will be required to keep paperwork, including the official logs already required under international law, that document the purchase and use of the cleaner fuel. "Our enforcement will be done at the port. Our officers will ask for the manifests and take samples of the fuel," Stanich said.

The proposed rule covers vessels that come within 24 miles of the California coast, and applies to major container ships, freighters, tankers and cruise ships, or any "very large vessels designed for deep water navigation. Ocean-going vessels include large cargo vessels such as container vessels, tankers, bulk carriers, and car carriers, as well as passenger cruise vessels."

About 2,000 such vessels come into California waters each year, making 11,000 separate port visits. The ships are enormous; so are the engines that power them. Even the generators and secondary power plants are huge. Most of the ships that visit California ports are registered in foreign countries.

A typical cargo vessel uses a main diesel engine, a two-stroke power plant, for propulsion, plus several smaller generator engines for electricity and other uses. Passenger cruise ships, and some tankers, use a different configuration, known as "diesel-electric," in which the four-stroke power plants are used both for propulsion and generating electricity.

Even the secondary engines, the generators, are huge, such as one known by its official name as the K98-C MAN.

"For example, a nine-cylinder, K98MC-C MAN engine produces about 40 megawatts, enough energy to power 30,000 houses for a year. The 65-foot-long by 60-foot-high engine is as tall as a five-story building,

weighs about 1,500 tons, and costs about $15 million," the ARB noted.

The proposed rule would take effect in two phases beginning in 2009, with the final step starting in 2012. According to the ARB, the regulation would remove about 15 tons of diesel soot per day from the air, or about 80 percent of the vessels'current harmful diesel emissions. "Emissions of oxides of sulfur and nitrogen, major contributors to California's air-pollution problems, would also be reduced by 90 percent and 6 percent, respectively," the ARB.

The cruise-line and freight-shipping industries had no immediate comment.

But clean-air advocates and environmtentalists are pleased with the proposed regulation, contending it helps satisfy the needs of health while cutting the emissions that contribute to greenhouse gases. One noted that rules targeting on-road and off-road diesel vehicles, including the heavy equipment used in construction, will have a dramatic impact on diesel-generated pollution.

"We are very supportive of the diesel regulations," said Bonnie Holmes Gen of the American Lung Association. "With those two (earlier) rules), we're talking about a major portion of diesel pollution thatg is generated statewide."

But apart from the policy of the proposed regulation is the fear that funding for the expanded ARB needed to enforce California's greenhouse gas law, and its sub parts, may be threatened because of the state's $18 billion budget shortage.

"Our concern is that the ARB has enough funding for staff and enforcement for the new positions," she added.

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