Brown to broaden fight over dirty air

Los Angeles Times
CLEAN AIR: California Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown will petition the federal government today to crack down on global warming emissions from ocean-going vessels, most of which sail under foreign flags.
The attorney general and environmental groups will ask the U.S. to regulate the emissions of ocean-going ships.
By Margot Roosevelt, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer  October 3, 2007
State Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown, joining with national environmental groups, will petition the Bush Administration today to crack down on global warming emissions from ocean-going vessels, which make more than 11,000 calls at California ports each year.

The petition opens a new front in the battle by California and other states to force the federal government to regulate greenhouse gases. Until now, the focus had been on emissions from cars, trucks, power plants and other U.S.-based industries. Regulating planet-warming pollutants from ships presents a tougher challenge because more than 90% of vessels that bring goods to the U.S. fly foreign flags and traditionally fall under international jurisdiction.

“Climate change represents a potent catastrophe and an irreversible risk to California as well as to the rest of the world,” Brown said in an interview. “Who comes into American ports is a matter for Americans to decide.”

Ocean-going vessels account for an estimated 2.7% to 5% of the world’s greenhouse gases, roughly equivalent to the carbon dioxide emissions of all U.S. cars and trucks. And emissions from ships are likely to grow by 75% in the next two decades, according to studies by the German-based Institute of Atmospheric Physics and the oil giant BP, which owns tankers.

The United Nations’ International Maritime Organization, which is charged with regulating ocean-going vessels, has discussed global warming emissions for several years but has yet to adopt rules. It has also postponed proposals to effectively control conventional pollutants, including particulates and ozone-forming gases that cause respiratory diseases and cancer.

The U.N. agency is hampered by opposition from Panama, Liberia and other nations that profit from registering ships, which environmentalists say makes U.S. intervention all the more urgent.

Overall, the Bush administration opposes mandatory curbs on global warming emissions and has declined to sign on to the Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement on climate change. That resistance suffered a setback earlier this year when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.

Brown’s petition to the EPA acknowledges that the landmark 1970 law does not give the agency “an unqualified mandate” to regulate non-road engines, such as those in ships. But given the act’s general directive to “protect public health and welfare,” he contends that the EPA “must regulate, or produce well-supported reasons . . . as to why it refuses to regulate, this large, almost completely uncontrolled source of greenhouse gas emissions.”

An EPA spokeswoman said the agency planned to draft regulations this year to cut gasoline emissions from cars and trucks. But she declined to comment on the issue of planet-warming pollutants from ships.

Also filing a petition today are the nonprofit groups Friends of the Earth, Earthjustice, Center for Biological Diversity and Oceana. “The global shipping industry is incredibly powerful,” said Michael F. Hirshfield, Oceana’s chief scientist. “They’ve been able to avoid doing anything about air pollution for years.”

In California, the Pacific Merchant Shipping Assn. is battling the Air Resources Board in federal court over the board’s 2005 rule requiring ships to switch to cleaner fuel as they approach the California coast. That rule would probably have little effect on global warming emissions, however, because it takes more energy to refine cleaner diesel than it does to use “bunker” fuel, a dirtier fuel, potentially offsetting the climate benefits of switching.

Industry spokesmen in Washington and Long Beach declined to comment on Brown’s petition or on the regulation of greenhouse gases generally.

However, the Air Resources Board is considering rules to require that ships plug into electrical outlets while they unload. Because electrical power in California is more cleanly generated, that change would lower carbon dioxide emissions. And the Port of Los Angeles is requiring ships to reduce speed as they near the shore, which would also cut global warming emissions.

Board chairman Mary Nichols noted that the U.S. government has avoided imposing unilateral shipping standards, preferring to work through the U.N. agency. “Shipping is one of those areas where countries either find a way to cooperate, or historically, they go to war,” she said.

As for Brown’s petition, “This is exactly the kind of activism on global warming he promised when he ran for the office of attorney general,” she said.

Brown has vowed to file suit against the Bush administration if it fails to grant a waiver allowing California to regulate carbon dioxide from cars and trucks.

And in the case of ships, he said, “I don’t believe the Bush administration can continue to thumb their noses at the laws of the U.S. There is a pattern here. The law is absolutely clear that the EPA has a responsibility to act.”

In recent months, Brown has required San Bernardino County and other counties to account for greenhouse gases in their growth plans and has challenged oil refineries and other industrial projects to mitigate or offset carbon dioxide emissions.

Brown said he did not check with the governor before filing today’s petition. “I’m the cop on the beat, and the beat is the environment of California,” he said. “This is a national imperative, and we cannot allow petty politics to stand in the way.”

margot.roosevelt@latimes.com

Times staff writer Janet Wilson contributed to this report.

~ by fredfelleman on October 3, 2007.

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