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Senate, House pass legislation exempting Great Lakes ships from EPA rule

WASHNGTON, D.C. — The U.S. House and Senate both passed a measure this week that will exempt some of the Great Lakes freight vessels from a proposed Environmental Protection Agency rule that aims to reduce sulfur emissions.

The exemption — pushed by Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., and Rep. Dave Obey, D-Wis., — was attached to the Interior Appropriations bill.

Shipping groups and members of the Great Lakes delegation have argued that the EPA rule would ruin the Great Lakes economy because a substantial number of ships would not be able to use the new, more expensive fuel.

“Laying up half of the Great Lakes fleet in one fell swoop would have devastating economic consequences at a time when we are only beginning to recover from a deep recession,” Oberstar said in a statement.

Under the bill’s language, 13 Great Lakes steamships will be exempt from the new regulations. To comply with the EPA’s proposed rule, these ships would have required engine upgrades costing about $22 million each, according to the industry. Great Lakes diesel ships will also be able to apply for “economic hardship” waivers. The lower sulfur fuel is about 70 percent more expensive than the fuel that the ships currently use.

“This was language that was included at the insistence of the House,” said Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., during a speech on the Senate floor Thursday. “Frankly, it was not my preference to include this language, but I understand Members from the Great Lakes states are very concerned about the economic impact of pending EPA emission control regulations on these 13 older ships.

“After substantial negotiation and discussion with EPA, we have crafted a narrowly tailored compromise that recognizes these concerns in report language but will not impact air quality in California or any other seaboard city, or interfere with the ability of EPA to negotiate international controls on emissions from other oceangoing vessels,” Feinstein said.

Clean air groups have countered, however, that the move amounts to a Congressional end run around the EPA.

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