EPA Clears California’s Rules for Ships to Eliminate At-Berth Emissions

Southern California ports
CARB will proceed adding tankers and Ro-Ros to the requirements to eliminate at-berth emissions (Port of Long Beach file photo)

Published Oct 18, 2023 6:30 PM by The Maritime Executive

A divisive regulation aimed at compelling ocean-going vessels (OGV) to plug into shore power at California’s busy ports is set to take effect over the next 30 days after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) granted its approval. In what is a major win for the California Air Resources Board (CARB), the EPA has approved the At-Berth Regulation passed in 2020, which adds auto carriers and tankers as well as additional ports and marine terminals to the emissions control requirements.

“This final action grants an authorization for amendments to California’s At-Berth Regulations that were previously authorized by EPA. As such, this final action will affect any person who owns, operates, charters, or leases any United States or foreign-flag ocean-going vessel that visits a California port, terminal, or berth,” the EPA said in its 56-page Notice of Decision.

The At-berth rule was originally slated to go into effect at the beginning of this year, but implementation has faced opposition including threats of lawsuits by the shipping industry. However, in granting its approval, the EPA asserted that opponents of the regulation did not meet their burden of proof to demonstrate or to adequately support an EPA finding that CARB and its 2020 At-Berth Amendments fail to meet the three authorization criteria under its laws.

CARB has advocated for stronger regulations since 2020 to reduce at-berth emissions in California’s ports. The new regulation builds on the At-Berth Regulation adopted in 2007. As of 2020, CARB reported the 2007 rule had achieved an 80 percent reduction in emissions from more than 13,000 vessel visits since 2014. The board estimates that by 2032, the updated at-berth regulations will reduce NOx emissions by 17,5000 tonnes and carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions by 356,000 metric tonnes. Once the new regulation is fully implemented, CARB reports it will deliver a 90 percent reduction in emissions from vessels at berth. This includes an expected additional 2,300 vessel visits per year.

Vessels covered under the original regulation included containerships, reefer cargo ships, and cruise ships. The regulation requires that vessels coming into a regulated California port, which includes Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Richmond, either use shore power or a CARB-approved control technology such as a duct that connects to a vessel’s exhaust and captures emissions to reduce emissions while on dock.

Under the new regulation, vessels are required to control pollution when they run auxiliary engines or auxiliary boilers while docked. The rules phase in extending the requirements to Ro-Ros transporting vehicles and tankers at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in 2025, and all vessels in 2027. The requirements also extended to ports and terminals that receive 20 or more visits from a regulated vessel category in a calendar year. CARB also has similar legislation that would extend to harbor craft and other segments such as commercial fishing boats.

Environmental groups are hailing the EPA approval as a big win in the fight against air pollution. Following the win on the at-berth rule, the environmental groups now want California to accelerate the rules for net zero-emissions ships by 2040 measures and for other states to follow California’s lead by adopting similar regulations.