The U.S. Supreme Court may have undercut the federal government’s ability to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, but a new bill from Reps. Alan Lowenthal and Nanette Barragán (D-CA) would restore its authority – for one industry.
The proposed Clean Shipping Act of 2022 is the first purpose-built legislation to target shipping’s greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, and it is modeled on the European Union’s Fit for 55 regulatory framework for shipping. If enacted as written, it would be among the few clear authorities the EPA could draw upon to regulate carbon emissions from any industry.
“We no longer have the luxury of waiting to act,” Congressman Lowenthal said in a statement. “We must face the fact that we are at a tipping point in the climate crisis; we must move beyond fossil fuels, and that includes air, land and sea transportation sources.”
The bill would require the EPA to enforce new fuel carbon-intensity standards for commercial voyages, international and domestic, involving any “U.S. ports of call.” The greenhouse gas intensity reduction would ratchet quickly down: 20 percent less in 2027, 45 percent less in 2030, 80 percent less in 2035 and 100 percent less in 2040, matching Maersk’s ambitious zero-by-2040 target.
The low-carbon fuel requirement would only apply to ships that spend 30 days a year or more on voyages to and from U.S. ports. This would cover the domestic Jones Act fleet, most of the U.S.-flag fleet and foreign-flag ships on liner routes. However, some foreign-flag owners could attain compliance by keeping a hull’s annual “covered voyage” under 29 days, or by using a legitimate cargo stop in Mexico or Canada to “shorten” the length of each overseas voyage to the United States. Similar itineraries have long been used in both the cargo and passenger-vessel sectors for cabotage compliance.
Vessels under 400 GT, like most tugs, towboats, and ATB pusher tugs, would not be regulated. This would allow towing operators to continue using fossil fuels, even for tows with greater capacity than a coastal freighter or a small product tanker.
As they are not covered by the regulation, trucking operators, rail lines and air cargo companies – which compete with shipping and emit more per ton-mile – could continue to operate using fossil fuels.
The bill’s language would also add a layer to U.S. maritime regulation by targeting only voyages to and from “U.S. ports of call,” leaving out other places where commercial vessels often go. The exemption or inclusion of other U.S. destinations – rigs, platforms, offshore wind towers, anchorages, ship-to-ship transfer areas, fishing grounds – could have significant and complex implications for vessel operators.