Environmental Values

Second to None on Environment and Safety Compliance

U.S.-flag vessels operate under strict and extensive Coast Guard standards; they are well-built, well-maintained, and crewed by well-trained officers and crew.

Many of the foreign flag vessels they compete with in the international trades are much more loosely regulated, often unsafe, and frequently manned by poorly trained personnel. However, if a marine spill incident or casualty occurs in domestic or foreign waters, inevitably all vessel operators will be impacted and pay the price for the shortcomings of those who do not place the highest premium on averting risk.

This is particularly critical as fully 97 percent of U.S. foreign trade is carried under the flag of another nation.Our long-held commitment to ensure the maritime sector is seeking responsible, measurable, and cost-effective environmental initiatives and risk-reduction measures, Transportation Institute and its member companies have long sought for their U.S. and foreign-flag competitors to be as conscientious in their environmental responsibilities and duties as they are.

The regulations advanced and enforced by the U.S. Coast Guard on U.S.-flag vessels are the most effective and demanding in the world.

Although many marine standards may be similar within the regulatory regime of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), a specialized branch of the United Nations responsible for a wide range of safety and environmental protection standards issued under several international conventions, the application and enforcement of such standards by other flag-states is significantly different and lenient as compared to those enforced on vessels carrying an American flag on their stern.

For this reason, the U.S. Coast Guard has attempted to implement Port State Control inspections on targeted foreign-flag vessels entering U.S. harbors to reduce substandard shipping.  Such targeting is based on a safety and environmental protection compliance targeting matrix to screen for poorly maintained or managed vessels.  Such vessels are then likely to be inspected by the Coast Guard in or near a U.S. port to determine whether they are a potential hazard to the port or the environment.  Such action could lead to detention, denial of entry, or expulsion of a vessel.

Voluntary Maritime Environmental Initiatives

Transportation Institute members are noted for voluntarily building vessels, instituting operating and management practices, and creating organizational partnership efforts that go beyond regulatory requirements to prevent, prepare for, or respond to oil spills or improve the environment.

For these efforts they have been lauded and won coveted awards from international, national, regional, state, and local public agencies, regulatory, community, and private-sector organizations.  Many have completed the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 14001:2004 certification process for environmental management standards. ISO 14001:2004 is an internationally recognized, independently verified management standard for continual improvement of environmental management systems and performance. They have built vessels with redundant navigation and propulsion systems to reduce the risk of a malfunction or accident leading to an oil spill incident and double-hulled their fuel tanks, with only a slight area of the fuel tanks exposed to the threat of a collision.

Several of our members have built articulated tug barges (ATBs), a specially equipped tug that locks into a notch in an oil product barge’s stern to create a single, hinged vessel. The system reduces the chances of the barge breaking loose and spilling oil, and provides a higher overall level of safety, reliability and efficiency.  Other member vessel operators have created training and near-miss reporting systems that have led to unparalleled records of time-loss injury-free workforce records (13 million man-hours) and many years of company-wide performance without a single drop of oil despoiling our marine environment.

“We believe that behaviors which deliver safety and environmental performance also deliver enhanced value performance.”

Anil Mathur, CEO, Alaska Tanker Company

Alaska Tanker Company has been recognized for partnering with community agencies to regularly transport over 20,000 tons of recyclable materials each year from Alaska to Lower 48 renewable processors at no cost – thus improving Alaska’s commitment to sustainable practices.  As of 2019, the men and women of Alaska Tanker Company have now completed sixteen years and twenty-two million man-hours with only one Lost Time Injury: a fractured finger back in 2011. During this period ATC has carried 1.4 billion barrels of crude oil and spilled less than 2.2 gallons of crude to sea.

Many of our operators are actively working to reduce harmful emissions and the release of particulates into the air from their vessels. They are testing various fuel additives on a trial basis, reconfiguring their power plants for greater efficiency, using refined fuel for cleaner emissions when transiting near shores and harbors, and several are actively involved in Cold Iron projects in partnership with the ports they frequent. The latter initiative involves shutting down the vessel engines while berthed and receiving power for the vessel from a shore based installation.

All of these initiatives are being pursued by an industry already recognized as the most environmentally sensitive mode of freight transportation.  According to a January 2011 United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) Report to the House Ways and Means Committee, waterborne carriage of cargo in the U. S. domestic trade results in significantly lower levels of air emissions than competing highway and rail transportation modes.

“…freight trucks produced over six times more fine particulate matter and over four times more nitrogen oxide on a ton-mile basis than freight locomotives, and over 10 and six times of each type emission, respectively, on a ton-mile basis than inland waterway vessels. And, according to our analysis of EPA data on greenhouse gases, trucks emitted the highest levels of greenhouse gases (CO2 equivalents) among the freight modes – about eight times more per unit of freight than freight rail, and thirteen times more than waterways freight.” – GAO-11-134 Freight Transportation

The nation’s Great Lakes region is a prominent element of the U.S. industrial base with 70% of national steelmaking capacity, 70% of U.S auto production and more than 50% of heavy industrial manufacturing facilities located in Great Lakes states. This industrial might has been well served by the waterborne transport system supporting the American and Canadian ports and numerous private terminals located throughout the Lakes.  Some Canadian-flag vessels and other foreign-flag, ocean-going ships call at various points throughout the Lakes.   However, the marine system is comprised mainly of a highly efficient fleet of U.S.-vessels which carry the iron ore, coal, limestone, cement, etc. needed to operate this massive industrial capacity critical to both U.S. economic and military security.

Currently, however, the efficiency of the U.S.-flag fleet has been diminished by a lack of adequate channel and harbor depth all around the Lakes.  In the last decade of the 20th century unusually high water levels masked the severity of the crisis because ships could carry maximum cargo loads.  The 21st century began with a rapidly diminishing level of vital industrial cargoes which could be delivered to end users.

The relevant statistics are startling.  Just one inch of lost capacity results in a loss of 50 to 270 tons of capacity for lake bound ships and 115 tons of lost capacity for the average ocean going vessel serving Great Lakes ports.  The situation has gotten so desperate that the 1,000 ft. self-unloading bulk carriers, the largest and most efficient vessels in the fleet, capable of lifting nearly 70,000 tons, have been forced to sail 8,000 tons light every voyage.  In real terms, the loss of economic benefit associated with such light loads is staggering.  Steel made from 8,000 tons of iron ore makes 6,000 cars.  Power generation resulting from 8,000 tons of coal would provide three hours of peak demand for a city the size of Detroit, MI. With the housing industry nationwide in distress the loss of 8,000 tons of limestone per voyage means that 24 average American homes cannot be built, further exacerbating the situation.  The core of the problem results from the lack of proper funding and an official perception of the region as a series of unrelated ports rather than of a cohesive system.

The responsibility for “Operation and Maintenance” dredging, repair or replacement of breakwaters, etc. rests with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).  The attention recently focused on the problem by U.S. maritime interests serving Great Lakes vessel operators has led to an evolution in thinking on the part of the USACE.  More effort is being made to provide systematic analysis on a regional basis than viewing it as a series of unrelated problems.  While this progress is encouraging lack of funding remains the most serious and ironically, unnecessary obstacle.  The resources which could solve the crisis are available in the “Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund” (HMTF) resulting from a tax on certain cargo movements.  The HMTF has a surplus of approximately $7 billion.  The surplus is allowed to accrue in order to mask the actual size of the federal budget deficit.

Consequently, the $200 million needed to restore proper harbor and channel dimensions in the Great Lakes system is held hostage to bureaucratic smoke and mirrors.

In a time of national economic recovery it is ludicrous to forgo the direct and indirect jobs and manufacturing efficiencies which would result from releasing the $200 million from the HMTF to address this critical and growing crisis.

Several legislative efforts are extant at any time intended to address navigational and systemic issues on the Great Lakes. The Institute will continue to work with like-minded industry groups and government officials to foster a viable solution to these pressing problems.

This issue first emerged over the proper management of vessel ballast water tanks used to enhance the stability of a vessel in varying sea conditions. Vessel operators uptake or discharge water from the tanks as sea conditions warrant. The seawater contained in the ballast tanks may contain a variety of aquatic species, some of which could be harmful if released into local marine ecosystems. The problem gained national notoriety in the early 1980’s, when vessels transiting through the St. Lawrence Seaway to U.S. Great Lakes ports released ballast water containing an invasive aquatic species – the zebra mussel. Since then, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has been in negotiation to develop an International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments, commonly known as the Ballast Water Convention. The United States has assumed a lead role in the IMO discussions with the goal of crafting international, comprehensive and technologically achievable standards to address what is clearly an international concern.

Until recently, ballast water management practices were governed by a number of federal regulations, primarily the National Invasive Species Act of 1996 (NISA). NISA addresses the problem by mandating a national effort to prevent the introduction and control the spread of aquatic species in the Great Lakes and contiguous waters under the oversight of the Coast Guard. The program required vessel operators to either complete ballast water exchanges in an area not less than 200 nautical miles from any shore; retain ballast water onboard the vessel; or use a Coast Guard approved alternative environmentally sound method of BWM prior to the vessel entering U.S. waters. In August of 2009, the Coast Guard issued proposed rulemaking that would, in a 2014/2016 time period, require all vessels entering U.S. waters equipped with ballast water tanks to comply with standards contained in the International Maritime Organization Ballast Water Convention. These standards limit the number of live organisms of a specified size contained in ballast water releases. Following the 2014/2016 time period, standards 1,000 times more stringent will gradually enter into force assuming appropriate technology is developed and available.

However, certain individual states, frustrated by the pace of the ongoing IMO ratification process, have focused their efforts on developing and imposing differing state-wide standards. However, such a conflicting, state-by-state approach would not realistically address the issue of the introduction of non-native aquatic species into American waters. In excess of 95 percent of import/export cargo transported through U.S. ports are carried aboard foreign-flag vessels. To apply and enforce varying state BWM regimes upon foreign-flag vessels could constitute a questionable venture into international maritime law. Furthermore, differing state BSM requirements could obviously lead to significant interstate commerce diversions in favor of states with less restrictive regulations, potentially magnifying the presence of invasive aquatic species in our coastal waters.

In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has published a final rulemaking to regulate all incidental vessel discharges, including ballast water, on all commercial and recreational vessels through the issuance of Vessel General Permits. This rulemaking resulted from a January 1999 petition submitted to the EPA requesting that the agency regulate vessel discharges through the authority of the Clean Water Act. The EPA ultimately denied the petition, following which the petitioners filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California challenging the EPA denial. In September of 2006, the Court ruled in favor of the petitioners and directed the agency to promulgate regulations encompassing all discharges from all vessels in U.S. waters effective December 19, 2008. The EPA appealed the decision, however the appeal was denied.

Transportation Institute, in conjunction with the Shipping Industry Ballast Water Coalition, is supportive of continuing the 35 year exclusion of BWM practices from the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. The Institute contends that the Clean Water Act’s instrument of regulation and enforcement, the Nation Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) was designed to manage fixed point discharges, not mobile sources that move port to port, state to state, and country to country. As noted earlier, BWM practices are already covered by federal requirements, adding the overlay of NPDES requirements could conflict with those existing federal standards. Furthermore, under the NPDES, individual states can impose additional requirements above and beyond federal standards, resulting in a patchwork of conflicting federal and state requirements governing BWM procedures.

Transportation Institute, along with industry coalitions, supports efforts to create a comprehensive, uniform, technologically feasible and federally-preemptive BWM program that would protect local marine ecosystems from non-native invasive aquatic species without impeding international and interstate commerce. Shipping by its very nature is international in scope; regulation of its activities should likewise be universal in application.