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. For this reason, and our long-held commitment to ensure the maritime sector is seeking responsible, measurable, and cost-effective environmental initiatives and risk-reduction measures, the 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. This is particularly critical as fully 97 percent of U.S. foreign trade is carried under the flag of another nation.
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.
The Institute is allied with the United States and the USCG to seek improvements in flag-state enforcement capabilities through enhanced technical assistance, improved training, and enhancement of the IMO’s development and implementation of international rules and standards.
The United States Coast Guard is the nation’s primary at-sea law enforcement agency and its statutory authority requires it to both improve maritime safety and facilitate maritime commerce. It accomplishes its mission in preserving the marine environment with a myriad of other federal agencies, including the National Fish and Wildlife service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Department of Defense. Close cooperation with state and local governments, private industry, non-governmental organizations, (NGOs), and other private organizations have also contributed to the success our nation has had in reducing the threat of pollution. Much of the federal authority of oil spill regulation is granted in the Ports and Waterways Safety Act of 1972 (PWSA) and the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA).
Particularly since the 1989 T/S EXXON VALDEZ debacle, there is an ever-expanding and pervasive movement by interest groups and individual state governments to seek a confusing patchwork of laws regulating in the area of maritime commerce and shipping. Given the altering global and interstate patterns of shipping, the maritime industry has long argued for oversight to be left to a comprehensive federal regulatory system and national and international efforts to maintain uniformity in shipping standards. A number of cases concerning the matter of federal preemption have reached the Supreme Court. The Court determined that it is for Congress and the Coast Guard to determine the sufficiency of federal regulations to deal with prevention of environmental risk and harm. While states may regulate in matters particular to state waters, a state may not attempt to supplement existing federal statutes without compromising the uniformity of the federal scheme. Furthermore, regardless of the individual states' significant interest in preventing oil spills, in matters of federal preemption, it is not the sufficiency of the regulations that is at issue but the question of political responsibility between federal and state governments.
“The state of Washington has enacted legislation in an area where the federal interest has been manifest since the beginning of our Republic and now well established.”
United States v. Locke (a.k.a. “Intertanko”), 529 U.S.
89 (2000). Unanimous Supreme Court decision (9-0).
In spite of this longstanding disagreement over regulatory authority, 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.
Still others have 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.
“…we believe that behaviors which deliver safety and environmental performance also deliver enhanced value performance.”
Anil Mathur, CEO, Alaska Tanker Company
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