NEWARK, N.J. — The head of the Environmental Protection Agency wants to limit emissions along the nation's coastline and within its seaports, just as the agency does along highways, with tougher pollution standards on large commercial ships.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said Monday that the United States and Canada have applied to the International Maritime Organization to create a 230-mile emissions control area around much of their coastline.
The move is intended to ensure the shipping industry does its part to improve the air quality of major seaport communities. Ships moving through the zone would be subject to the tougher emissions standards.
"This is an important and long overdue step to protect the air and water along our shores," Jackson said, speaking in front of a row of cranes at a press conference in Port Newark.
Jackson estimated that 40 of the 100 largest U.S. ports are located in metropolitan areas that fail to meet federal air quality standards. One of them is the Port Newark facility, which is part of the Port of New York and New Jersey _ the East Coast's largest port complex.
The EPA estimates that 90 percent of the ships carrying cargo in and out of U.S. coastal ports are based in other countries.
Ships operating in the proposed zone would face stricter limits on the sulfur content of their fuel beginning in 2015, and new ships would be required to incorporate advanced emission-control technologies beginning in 2016, Jackson said. Sulfur content is directly related to the soot, or pollution, emitted after fuel is burned.
Jackson made the announcement at a news conference with the Coast Guard and other federal and state officials.
EPA estimates the new emission-control technology will cost shipping companies $3.2 billion. Jackson said that translates into an increased cost of about 3 cents for each pair of sneakers shipped into the United States.
Gov. Jon Corzine welcomed the proposal and recalled sending Jackson to Washington, D.C., to lobby for it when she headed New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection.
Christopher Koch, president of the World Shipping Council, said international shipping companies have participated in discussions about the proposed emissions control area and are not opposed to tighter standards. The Washington, D.C.-based trade organization represents international container ship operators.
"We all recognize that vessel emissions regulations have to be updated," Koch said.
The EPA is under a federal court order to issue regulations to reduce emissions from oceangoing ships by December.
In October, when the maritime agency adopted new international emissions regulations for ships, the EPA said it planned to apply to make U.S. coastal waters emission control areas. The application the agency submitted Friday makes the U.S. the first country to submit such a proposal under the program, according to the EPA.
The IMO, a United Nations agency with 168 member countries, will begin reviewing Jackson's proposal in July. She said approval could occur as soon as next year.
"Dirty diesel pollution from ships is a serious, but solvable problem," said Rich Kassel of the New York City-based Natural Resources Defense Council. "Cleaner ships will mean cleaner air."
Mexico's absence from the proposal raises the possibility of shipping companies routing U.S. cargo to Mexican ports with lower emissions standards, if the proposal is approved. Talks with the Mexican government are under way, Jackson said.
"We would like to partner with Mexico as well," Jackson said.
Monday's announcement comes at a time of slowing international trade, which has undermined activity in many U.S. ports. A measure of shipping containers being exported from the Port of New York and New Jersey plunged 25 percent in December from the same month a year earlier, while imports dropped 11 percent.