The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed ambitious air pollution limits for U.S.-flagged oceangoing vessels — cruise ships, container ships, tankers — within 200 miles of any coast in most of North America, including a large swath of Alaska.
It's a worthy effort aimed at cleaning up a long-ignored pollution source, but the agency is moving a little too fast into a complex legal and technical area.
Beginning in 2010, EPA regulations would ban the sale of high-sulfur fuels in most coastal areas. Ships would have to burn fuels that will cut sulfur and particulate emissions and use new pollution controls to sharply reduce nitrous oxide emissions.
The EPA's argument is simple. Global shipping belches significant amounts of these harmful chemicals into the Earth's atmosphere. They foul the air in U.S. ports and far inland, contribute to respiratory and other diseases and accelerate global warming.
Burn cleaner fuel and run cleaner engines, and Americans will get cleaner air, better health and help with the challenge of climate change. The EPA says its plan to cut this type of air pollution will prevent up to 33,000 premature deaths a year. In Alaska, the EPA rules would apply from Kodiak east and south.
Alaskans are pushing back against the EPA proposal. Gov. Sean Parnell, Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich and Southeast community leaders worry that the rules will drive up costs for Alaska-bound cruise ships and possibly reduce visits. That would be a hit to a tourist industry that's already suffered in the recession.
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