Thursday, June 19, 2008

Why is US Senate delaying on ship pollution legislation?

It’s understandable that there would be an aggressive Democratic response to the calls by President Bush and John McCain to drill off the coasts.

But inaction on a separate coastal pollution issue seems harder to explain:

I’m referring to a delay by the U.S. Senate in taking up legislation – already passed by the House of Representatives and a Senate committee – to ratify an international treaty aimed at reducing air pollution from ocean-going ships.

And the clock is ticking.

If this bill doesn’t become law by July 6, the U.S. would lose its vote in an upcoming October meeting of the International Maritime Commission, the UN body that oversees international ship pollution.

This is a rare instance in which the Bush administration has actually tried to do something pretty positive. It came up with the proposal last year and submitted it to the international body. The plan would dramatically reduce air pollution from ships by requiring cleaner diesel fuel and establishing a new tier of performance-based standards for marine diesel engines on all vessels. It will also establish stringent emission requirements for ships that operate in coastal areas where air quality problems are acute. (We have more details on this if you need them.)
The House of Representatives passed the plan (H.R. 802) overwhelmingly in March of 2007. And the Senate Commerce Committee followed suit in April of this year after receiving letters of support for the measure by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as well as the governors of Oregon and Washington.

But since then, the bill has inexplicably languished.

Surely partisan politics is not a factor. (At the behest of Senator Barbara Boxer, the Senate Environment Committee passed a somewhat tougher plan last month by a voice vote, but it’s unclear if this was a “message” bill, that is, one designed principally for purposes of press statements. In any event, it hasn’t been taken up by the full Senate either.)

It would be ironic if the Bush administration, which has rightly been flayed for its intransigence in dealing with global warming in the international arena, would be denied a voice in an international agreement to clean up air pollution from ocean-going ships.

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