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Treatment of marine transport unfair to truckers: CTA boss

OTTAWA -- Canadian officials are urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to provide marine shippers safe harbor from strict new pollution rules -- and that's got the nation's top trucking advocate steamed.

One of the last major transport modes to come under North American clean air rules, lake freighters have been told by the EPA that they must wean themselves off of cheaper, dirty No. 6 "bunker" fuel by drastically reducing sulfur levels by 2015 and adopting engine emission controls by 2016.

The entire lake freight fleet would have to convert to low sulfur marine diesel fuel, which could contain about 1000 sulfur ppm, compared to the 17,000 ppm most ship engines currently burn.

Because of the high rate of cross-border runs on the Great Lakes, the rules would apply to most Canadian lake shipping lines as well.

The EPA projects its proposed regulations would eliminate 1.2 million tons of NOx emissions and cut particulate matter by about 143,000 tons by 2030 annually, plus prevent 8,300 premature deaths.

Great Lakes freight shippers are fuming over the plan and apparently have recruited an unlikely ally in lobbying for more relaxed rules: The Canadian government. 

Ottawa is trying to weaken enviro rules that could
cost St. Lawrence Seaway and Great Lakes shippers a lot more

According to a report in this past weekend's Globe & Mail, the Canadian embassy in Washington has quietly asked the EPA to relax the pollution controls, arguing that they could harm trade.

It is asking that shippers continue to be allowed to burn bunker fuel if they agree to install smokestack scrubbers.

David Bradley, the CEO of the Canadian Trucking Alliance isn't impressed with Ottawa's two-tired stance on transport emissions compliance.

He says Ottawa's decision reflects a "disjointed and uncoordinated policy" and a "stubborn bias" in some official government circles favor certain freight transport modes over others.

The trucking industry, of course, converted to ultra low sulfur diesel (500 ppm to 12 ppm) in 2006 with minimal industry resistance. That's on top of EPA mandates between 2002 and 2010 to virtually eliminate NOx and particulate matter from modern diesel engines. 

The Canadian Shipowners Association has also written to the EPA, asking that the industry be given until 2020 to comply.

Curiously, association president Bruce Bowie says freighters on "highway H2O" are the “greenest” form of transport because short-sea shipping takes trucks off of the road and reduces congestion. 

It's arguable, though, whether that atones for burning fuel which has about 17,000 ppm more sulfur content than highway petroleum diesel and engines that emit significantly higher levels of NOx and carcinogen particulates than modern trucks' smog-free diesels.

Bradley finds the claim laughable.

"C’mon," he writes in an email to todaystrucking.com."(It's) like they have taken a page from the railways; and where did that get them?"

He says that despite the added costs of new mandated technology (which includes lost fuel efficiency), the trucking industry went through many of these regulatory changes years ago and survived -- mostly for the better.

Just as the CTA has done on behalf of truckers, he recommends that leaders from other modes -- rather than fight standard sector compliance -- should lobby government to introduce tax incentives or rebates aimed at accelerating the penetration of cleaner engines and fuel-efficient add-ons into the marketplace.

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