The state of Alaska has filed a federal lawsuit to block federal environmental regulations that require ships to use low-sulfur fuel. According to the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce, the regulations will have a significant negative impact upon Alaskans, who are apparently just fine with the idea of breathing dirty air. Alaska’s lawsuit also alleges that the regulation isn’t binding because the treaty amendment has yet to be ratified by the US Senate.

Ship emissions may not be visible in the same way car and truck emissions are, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less harmful to the environment. Most large-scale shipping vessels, including cruise ships, use massive diesel engines that introduce significant levels of emissions, including nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulphur oxides (SOx).

In 2010, the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, or MARPOL, introduced an amendment to the international pollution reduction treaty that would require the use of low-sulfur fuel for large marine vessels operating within 200 miles of the coast (known as the Emissions Control Area or ECA). Under the new agreement, vessels must switch to 1 percent sulfur diesel by August 2012 and 0.1 percent by 2015.

The United States belongs to MARPOL, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has accepted the 2010 amendment. By 2020, emissions from ships operating in the ECA are expected to be reduced annually by 320,000 tons for nitrogen oxide, 90,000 tons for fine particulate matter and 920,000 for sulfur dioxide, the EPA said.

For those of us who like breathing clean air, this amendment sounds great: less secondary particulate in the air to give us respiratory problems and create smog. To members of industry in Alaska, however, the amendment is a direct attack on their profit margins, thereby putting the state’s economy in jeopardy.

“In effect,” stated Rachael Petro, President and CEO of the Alaska Chamber, “The ECA levies a shipping tax upon Alaskans without demonstrating any legitimate scientific justification or proving there will be any measurable environmental benefits of such extreme regulations.” Members of the Alaskan shipping industry say complying with the new rule would increase fuel costs by 8 percent, which would in turn make passenger tickets about $18 more expensive.

What do you think? Does the treaty amendment place an unfair burden on Alaska, or is it a reasonable price to pay for cleaner air?

Photo Credit: Alaskan Dude/Flickr