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USCG will not enforce new California rule in air resources

The US Coast Guard has said that it will decline to enforce a new California Air Resources Board (CARB) regulation. The USCG and business organizations oppose CARB’s requirement that commercial harbour craft install diesel particulate filters (DPF) linked to a number of fires. Seventeen US states are suing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for giving an exemption to California alone to enact its own air standards. Because of California’s market size, such regulations govern much of the rest of the country.

Before enforcing the DPF rule, CARB is required to receive authorization for a waiver from the EPA under the Clean Air Act, which it is yet to secure.

DPFs capture nearly all the soot and other particulate matter leaving a diesel engine. However, this is a highly flammable material. It is cleared out by DPF “regeneration” – bringing the engine up to high speeds and heat to make the built-up material catch on fire to clear itself out.

This regeneration process is at a much higher temperature than mere combustion. It produces carbon dioxide, water vapour, and much smaller levels of soot. While DPF filters reduce immediate particulate pollution, they are linked to many fires, including a 3,600-acre fire in Washington state.

The USGC is declining to enforce the rule because of safety concerns.

Rear Admiral Andrew M. Sugimoto, who commands the U.S. Coast Guard’s Eleventh District that stretches from the California-Oregon border all the way to Peru, wrote a letter to CARB detailing his issues with the pending DTF requirement, citing “potential fire safety issues associated with DPFs,” “feasibility and potential stability issues,” and “potential safety issues over DPF operating temperatures and the fire load of the vessel due to varied hull materials.”

“DPS verified by CARB may not necessarily be accepted by the Coast Guard for installation on inspected commercial vessels,” continued Sugimoto. “Coast Guard inspectors will not perform emissions tests on vessels operating in U.S. waters to evaluate DPF system performance. Therefore, please note that the Coast Guard will not enforce California’s CHC regulation.”

The American Waterways Operators (AWO) also oppose the rule.

AWO president and CEO Jennifer Carpenter said in a latter to California Governor Gavin Newsom that “CARB has made it clear that it intends to continue to enforce the CHC rule deadlines without EPA authorization. This ill-advised position should be reconsidered, not only for legal reasons, but also to protect mariner safety, the environment, and the California supply chain.”

AWO also said retrofitting each tugboat or other commercial harbour craft by the state’s deadline (10 months from now) would cost $5m per boat — and that this was cash that many operators simply did not have. Also there was a lack of available drydocks, which meant that, even if the money was available, it would be physically impossible to complete on time.

CARB is increasingly coming under pressure from businesses and other states. They say that the state’s unique, federal government-granted sway in environmental standards is unfair.

The 17-state coalition suing the EPA claims that California’s exceptional status violates the doctrine of equal sovereignty among states. California was given this exceptional status under the 1970 Clean Air Act, because of the dreadful smog and pollution in the state at the time. More than 50 years later the fact that this could contradict the principle of “equal sovereignty” has come to light.

Southern California’s smog levels must still be cut by 100 tons per day to reach the EPA’s 1997 ozone standards, but the South Coast Air Quality Management District has said that two-thirds of the required cuts need to take place at the federal level for trains, ships, and aircraft, because it lacks the power to regulate them itself.