Great Lakes Shipping Lobby To Spar With EPA

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Shipping companies operating from the Great Lakes region are launching a lobbying effort to block the Environmental Protection Agency from imposing new clean air rules.

The proposed rules, which are to be finalized by December, would require use of cleaner fuels and engine modifications to cut emissions that cause acid rain and smog, reports The Hill.

But shipping companies claim the regulations would cost the industry millions of dollars every year -- James Weakley, president of the Lake Carriers Association, said the rules would cause 25 percent of the Great Lakes fleet to cease operation.

Under the new rules, oceangoing vessels would not be able to use fuel with a high sulfur content within 200 miles of the coast. This would be particularly harmful, shipping companies say, because they operate within that zone and would be forced to use a higher-price fuel that's compatible with the rules.

The Washington Post reports that large vessels rank just behind power plants in terms of the health risk produced by their pollution. The EPA estimates that the shipping proposal would produce more health benefits than those it has applied to off-road vehicles, diesel trucks and other sources, even preventing up to 33,000 premature deaths a year from problems such as cancer and respiratory illness.

So while the EPA says the health benefits outweigh the compliance cost by 30 to 1, the economic impact the policy could have on a region already experiencing above-average unemployment could be devastating.

"We asked them to pause, go back, study the economic impact, work with industry," said Steven Fisher, executive director of the American Great Lakes Ports Association. "We applaud their goal of clean air, but how do we get there without wrecking this economy and wrecking this industry?"