The Plot to Help Great Lakes Ships Dis-Obey Air Pollution Standards Thickens: Jim Oberstar Meets with EPA

Last week we reported that some Great Lakes lawmakers were listening to the pleas of Great Lakes shippers who want to avoid complying with a law that would prohibit ships from burning high-sulfur fuel within 200 miles of a coast by 2012 to protect public health.

While we were writing, Great Lakes Congressmen were meeting with EPA officials at the request of Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., according to his spokesman John Schadl. The concern, Schadl told the Green Bay Press Gazette, was over “costs versus benefits. Is it worth it to significantly damage an entire industry on the Great Lakes with a program that wouldn’t have any appreciable benefit to air quality?”

The EPA published a briefing paper in June that said burning high-sulfur fuel and the nitrogen oxide emissions from ships is expected to double by the year 2030. The paper states that breathing this pollution increases illness, hospitalization and premature death. Frank O’Donnell’s Clean Air Watch group has estimated that forcing Great Lakes ships to comply with the EPA standards would save the lives of 450 people a year in our region. Clean Air Watch’s blog also reports that Murphy Oil – a company in Wisconsin Rep. David Obey’s (D) district that provides the sludgy, “asphalt-like” bunker fuel to Great Lakes ships – contacted Obey’s office about the EPA standards.

Splashing more fuel upon this growing fire, the Canadian Embassy weighed in last week in support of the Great Lakes shippers asking the EPA to back off. The Canadians are arguing that the costs of compliance will be too high and force some companies to stop using iconic steamers that travel the lakes carrying lots of commodities.

Since HOW’s concern is for the health of the Great Lakes and the people who live in our eight state region, we would like to see what the lawmakers and diplomats are basing this argument upon. If there has been some sort of cost benefit analysis that shows that the cost of compliance outweighs the benefit to public’s and environment’s health then please share it with us to clear the air, so to speak. Without this kind of transparency it looks to us like our lawmakers are putting profits ahead of our restoration goals and the public’s good.

Congress expects to reach a resolution with the EPA this week. There is still a danger that a rider could be attached to an energy and water appropriations bill that would block this proposed rule.

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