Subchapter M

Some Request Tier IV Delays As Operators Face Mounting Costs

Last August, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed extending the amount of time operators of “certain high-speed vessels”—pilot boats and some smaller vessels—have to comply with the upcoming switch to clean-burning Tier 4 diesel engines. The problem: not enough manufacturers were making enough models for smaller vessels, especially pilot boats and fishing vessels, to reasonably comply.

EPA said it was also “making a technical correction to the diesel fuel regulations to allow fuel manufacturers and distributors to make distillate diesel fuel that complies with the global sulfur standard that applies internationally instead of the fuel standards that otherwise apply to distillate diesel fuel in the United States.” Comments were due last October.

As part of the comment process, The American Waterways Operators submitted a letter to the EPA requesting that some towing vessels be included in the waiver. AWO asked that eligible vessels include towing vessels with maximum power output up to 1,400 kw., that towing vessels with multiple engines be included and that the final implementation date be extended to model year 2022.

Now, with additional operational constraints due to COVID-19, the requests for additional time to comply are gaining new urgency.

Installing Tier 4 engines can be an expensive proposition, especially for smaller vessels, because making room for catalytic converters means reconfiguring structural spaces in some cases, not just swapping out one engine for another.

On March 26, EPA released a memo ( to “all governmental and private sector partners” saying that in response to the COVID emergency, it would begin exercising “enforcement discretion” with regard to Tier 4 compliance. The policy was made retroactive to March 13.

“The EPA will exercise the enforcement discretion specified below for noncompliance covered by this temporary policy and resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, if regulated entities take the steps applicable to their situations, as set forth in this policy. For noncompliance that occurs during the period of time that this temporary policy is in effect, and that results from the COVID-19 pandemic, this policy will apply to such noncompliance in lieu of an otherwise applicable EPA enforcement response policy.”

The March memo does not detail how the discretion applies specifically to marine diesel operators. However, the memo added, “The EPA will apply this policy to actions or omissions that occur while this policy is in effect even after the policy terminates.”

The latest word is that the extension will be granted for pilot boats and fishing vessels. The waiver would also allow Tier 3 engines to continue to be installed on those vessels where Tier 4 engines are not available.

The EPA is reportedly considering extending those waivers to some towing vessels, but they won’t announce any decision until June. As of this writing, though, nothing is official regarding towing vessels.