The U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations approved an amendment to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) on Tuesday, March 14th.

Through the latest amendment — known as Annex VI — new engine standards for ships would be established that reduce nitrogen oxide emissions.

Ships would also be required to use low sulfur fuels under a petition that would be sent to the International Maritime Organization to designate North America [U.S., Canada, and Mexico] as a Sulfur Emissions Control Area (SECA).

“This amendment affects every city up and down the California coast,” Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn said. “Residents of beach cities sometimes do not know that the haze they see on the horizon comes from ship pollution.”

A campaign spearheaded by Hahn and City Councilwoman Jan Perry led the Los Angeles City Council to unanimously adopt a resolution in February urging the U.S. Senate to ratify the treaty amendment.

Hahn, Perry, and the Los Angeles City Council received support for their resolution from the Los Angeles Harbor Commission, the Pacific Merchants Shipping Association, the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, and the South Bay Cities Council of Governments.

MARPOL — which was first signed by nations in 1973 and by the United States in 1998 — was last modified in 1978.

The latest amendment to the treaty was unanimously approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and may be heard by the full Senate this spring.

Hahn said the latest amendment has bipartisan support from the Bush Administration and Senate.

She hopes other beach cities such as Marina del Rey and Santa Monica will pass resolutions urging the Senate to vote for the treaty amendment.

“This has to be a group effort because we can’t continue to have pollution,” Hahn said. “We can have economic development and trade in Southern California and still have clean air.”

California Air Resources Board research last year concluded that 20 percent of Los Angeles Basin pollution comes from ships, and that cargo-related pollution causes 750 premature deaths, 290 hospital admissions, 18,000 asthma attacks, and 160,000 lost days of work per year.

The board adopted two measures that would reduce emissions from activities related to moving goods in and out of California.

“We are examining all aspects of this issue to assure that we protect air quality,” said board member Barbara Riordan.

“Our efforts will help lessen the health risks associated with breathing the polluted air in communities near ports and rail yards, many of which are busy 24 hours a day.”

Nitrogen oxide emissions contribute to the formation of fine particles and smog in the air and have increased in the U.S. by 19 percent over the past 30 years.

Other air pollutants such as carbon monoxide, lead, and ozone have decreased since the Clean Air Act of 1970.

A MARPOL amendment would enable the U.S. to enforce nitrogen oxide emission provisions within U.S. jurisdictional waters. By establishing a Sulfur Emission Control Area in North America, Hahn said sulfur emissions from ships could be reduced by 18 percent.

A Sulfur Emission Control Area will take effect in May for the Baltic Sea area to reduce sulfur emissions. In 2000, a control area was established for the North Sea.

Thirty MARPOL member countries have already ratified the treaty’s latest amendment.

“Ships are the largest polluter of cargo-related pollution,” Hahn said. “The U.S. can be the first country in North America to petition for a Sulfur Emissions Control Area and California should take the leadership to make sure the Senate takes action.”

The U.S. has agreed to all of the MARPOL annexes except Annex VI.

Annexes I through V regulate the transport of oil, harmful substances carried in bulk, harmful substances in packaged form, ship-generated sewage, and garbage.

Annex VI would specifically regulate the discharge of nitrogen oxides from larger marine diesel engines, prohibit the emission of ozone-depleting substances, and regulate the emission of volatile organic compounds during the transfer of cargoes between tankers and terminals.

The amendment would also set standards for incinerators aboard ships and fuel oil quality, and establish requirements for platforms at sea and drilling rigs.

The International Maritime Organization was established in 1983 and sets standards and regulations for ships through MARPOL.

The City of Los Angeles general fund would not see a fiscal impact, but the amendment and a Sulfur Emission Control Area may result in additional fuel costs for Port of Los Angeles shipping companies.

“MARPOL could make a huge difference in worldwide air emissions, but only if every maritime nation adopts it,” Hahn said. “Business, labor, and environmental leaders can come together to support a measure that will clean up the air.”