Diesel-powered ships and trains must cut soot emissions by as much as 90% by 2030, under regulations signed Friday by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator Stephen Johnson.
"Today EPA is fitting another important piece into the clean diesel puzzle by cleaning emissions from our trains and boats," Johnson said by telephone from the Port of Houston, where he made the announcement. "This will help America's economic workhorse become its environmental workhorse as well."
The air pollution rules won rare, uniform praise from several national environmental and industry groups, but did nothing to satisfy Southern California air regulators struggling with pollution from the nation's largest port complex.
"It's too little, too late," said Barry Wallerstein, executive officer of the South Coast Air Quality Management District. "Every year they delay . . . is another year that Southern Californians die needlessly from air pollution from ships and locomotives."
Because the new rules will take decades to implement, and do not target large marine vessels, the AQMD will not be able to reach a 2015 federal deadline to bring deadly fine particulate exposure down to legal amounts, Wallerstein said.
Large, ocean-going vessels are linked to about 800 premature deaths in the region each year. More than 40% of all retail goods shipped to the U.S. come through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
Under the new rules, locomotives, harbor tugs, barges, ferries and recreational boats will be required to use cleaner fuel, to retrofit existing equipment and to replace older models with new, cleaner engines.
When fully implemented, the new standards are projected to reduce fine particulate soot by 90%, and nitrogen oxide emissions by 80%. Nitrogen oxides are key ingredients in both soot and smog, and have been linked to global warming.
Nationwide, the regulation could help prevent 1,400 premature deaths and 120,000 lost workdays annually by 2030, saving as much as $12 billion, Johnson said.
Johnson moved up the start dates for control of nitrogen oxide emissions by two years from his original proposal: to 2014 for marine engines, and 2015 for locomotive engines.
Executives for the railroads and for GE, the nation's largest locomotive manufacturer, said that the technology to comply with the advanced, cleaner engine requirements does not exist but that they support the new regulations. That was a marked change for GE in particular, which objected strenuously to tougher controls when they first were proposed.
"We welcome the new emission standards," said company spokesman Stephan Koller, who added that the company worked closely with federal staff and customers to reach consensus. "We don't just live in the past."
Meeting the new standards "will be a serious challenge," but it will be done, said Edward R. Hamberger, president and chief executive of the American Assn. of Railroads, in a statement.
"The railroads will need to develop an infrastructure to handle [different] fueling of locomotives . . . and maintain diesel particulate filters so heavy that cranes likely will be needed to remove and reinstall them," Hamberger said.
Many environmental groups welcomed the action as a "breath of fresh air" after other recent decisions by Johnson. On Tuesday he announced that he disagreed with his science advisors' recommendations, and only marginally tightened limits on ozone, a key ingredient in smog. Johnson brushed off months of mounting criticism from environmentalists and Democratic lawmakers Friday, saying "being EPA administrator is not a popularity contest."
Echoing many groups, Environmental Defense Fund attorney Janea Scott said that the "EPA deserves praise for issuing a final rule that is stronger than its original proposal."
Johnson said the EPA was working closely with international maritime regulators to try to impose tougher emission limits on the giant vessels that transport the globe's retail goods.