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New harbor craft regulations could improve health for West Oakland residents

West Oakland residents may soon breathe a lot easier thanks to a rule adopted Thursday by the California Air Resources Board.

The board updated its regulation of commercial harbor craft like fishing boats, tugboats and ferries to reduce pollution. Harbor craft operate near land and the updated regulation is aimed partly at improving air quality in communities like West Oakland, which is near water and considered disadvantaged.

The change is expected to save over 530 lives in California, according to the air resources board, and reduce the cancer risk for over 22 million California residents.

Board chair Liane Randolph said in a statement:

“These amendments will help clean the air and protect public health, especially in port-adjacent communities that are already burdened by high levels of air pollution.” 

West Oakland is near the Port of Oakland, San Francisco Bay and freeways, where traveling vehicles and vessels result in neighborhood pollution.

Tony Webster/Wikimedia Commons Cranes at Port of Oakland, Calif.

According to the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, an advocate for environmental justice:

“West Oakland residents endure the highest levels of diesel particulate matter in the Bay Area.” 

Cancer risk from local pollutants is nearly three times higher in neighborhoods near the Port of Oakland and Seventh Street compared to those farther away, according to the project.

West Oakland residents also suffer higher rates of asthma, cardiovascular disease and premature death than other parts of the region, according to the group.

Brian Beveridge, co-director of the project, said:

“We’re happy that the board continues to adopt regulations that decrease diesel emissions in our community.” 

But Beveridge added that the new regulation must be implemented “in ways that are equitable in both the burden and the benefits.”

Part of the burden falls on small mom and pop fishing boats, which may decide to go out of business rather than make the transition to cleaner engines.

Beveridge said:

“We want to get rid of pollution. We not trying to get rid of people.”

The updated regulation begins phasing in next year and most vessel owners must transition by 2032. Some owners don’t have to upgrade until 2034 if they can’t afford the vessel replacement and are granted an extension.

Sportfishing vessel owners can get a one-time 10-year extension until 2035 if the vessel has all Tier 3 engines in place by the end of 2024. Marine engines are designated as Tier 1 through Tier 4. Tier 4 are the newest and least-polluting engines.

Other compliance flexibilities are available for all vessel types, according to the air resources board.

The updated regulation requires zero-emission engines if feasible, and Tier 3 and Tier 4 engines for all other vessels. Vessels are required to use diesel particulate filters.

Short-run ferries are required to be zero-emission by 2025.

The updated regulation also establishes the first engine emission requirements for pilot vessels, commercial passenger fishing vessels, workboats, research vessels and tank barges over 400 feet.

Previously, those vessels were required to use cleaner engine fuel, but not cleaner engines.

Mariela Ruacho, clean air advocacy manager with the American Lung Association, said:

“California’s stronger rules for ferries, charter fishing boats, and tugboats will provide critical health benefits to over-burdened portside communities.” 

Ruacho said:

“Emissions from diesel vessels are a leading source of cancer risk for these communities and transitioning to cleaner engines and zero-emission technologies will generate billions in health benefits, save hundreds of lives, and reduce a wide range of lung and heart illnesses.” 

Incentives to switch to cleaner engines are available for operators, especially those who switch soon or go beyond the requirements in the updated regulation.

Other funds may be available through the Carl Moyer Program, the Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust for California, and among others, Community Air Protection Incentives.

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