New environmental rules to curb cruise-line emissions along much of the North American coastline could improve the air as far inland as the Grand Canyon and the Great Smoky Mountains, the Environmental Protection Agency says. But cruise line operators say that the regs could cost them $130 million a year to implement, and that they could pass those costs on to consumers in higher prices, fewer sailings, and other restrictions.
Long before the BP oil spill threatened the U.S. coastline, federal authorities had begun implementing stricter maritime standards for vessels operating in domestic waters, in an effort to provide cleaner air and reduce illnesses and deaths linked to emissions. Because these new regulations will apply to cruise ships, it remains unclear how this will affect sailings into and out of U.S. ports in coming years.
In March 2009, the United States and Canada officially took steps to designate Emission Control Areas (ECAs) along the coasts of both countries. These areas include U.S. waters adjacent to the Pacific Coast including sections of Alaska, the Atlantic/Gulf Coast, and the eight main Hawaiian Islands.
The designated areas do not include the Pacific U.S. territories, the western (unpopulated) Hawaiian Islands, the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Aleutian Islands and Western Alaska, and the U.S. and Canadian Arctic because the EPA cited the need to gather “further information” on those areas. In November 2009, the Alaska Conference of Mayors requested the EPA exempt the entire state of Alaska from ECAs, pending a “comprehensive scientific analysis,” but currently certain Alaskan waters remain in the ECA program.
The new regulations will apply to coastal areas in the United States and Canada in 2012, and stricter standards will kick in by 2015. Currently there are ECAs in Baltic, North Sea, and English Channel waters.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that large marine diesel engines on ships are significant contributors to a variety of ecological threats; without containment such emissions are projected to double by 2030. The EPA estimates coastal areas will experience the largest improvements from cleaner air in ports, but benefits will extend hundreds of miles inland, even improving air quality in the Grand Canyon National Park and the Great Smoky Mountains.
In addition, analysis shows that as many as 8,300 lives will be saved in the U.S. and Canada and over three million people will experience relief from acute respiratory symptoms each year. A report issued last year by a coalition consisting of the American Lung Association, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, and the National Association of Clean Air Agencies indicated about 87 million Americans live in port areas that are not meeting basic federal public health standards.
However, news reports indicate that purchasing and storing more expensive low-sulphur fuels could significantly raise costs for cruise lines. In 2009, the International Maritime Organization published the proposal from the U.S. and Canadian governments. That document addressed the economic effects and indicated “the impacts on cruise vessels are expected to be small.” The proposal further predicted the per passenger price of a seven-day Alaska cruise operating entirely within the ECA would increase about $7 per day.
But some cruise industry analysts estimate that by 2015 the stricter standards will raise costs by $100 million annually in the Alaska market and $30 million annually in the New England-Canada market. This apparently is why one European operator, Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, has indicated it may discontinue sailings in North America. Industry analysts say other cruise lines may not abandon the U.S. and Canada, but that the new regulations could lead to fewer sailings, shorter itineraries, and/or higher rates, but that remains to be seen.—William J. McGee