Coast Guard Won’t Enforce Or Accept California’s Harbor Craft Rule

In the latest episode of what is shaping up as a major showdown between state and federal regulators, the U.S. Coast Guard has notified the state of California that it will not accept or enforce rules enacted by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) requiring marine vessels to add diesel particulate filters (DPFs) to marine engines to reduce the emission of particulate matter.

DPFs work by recycling hot exhaust gases to incinerate particulates trapped in a filter. The Coast Guard maintains that existing DPFs create unacceptable safety issues in marine engines by raising engine temperatures and that any such modifications of marine engines remain unauthorized.

In a February 21 letter to Bonnie Soriano, branch chief of the Freight Activity Branch of CARB, obtained and published by Politico, Rear Adm. A.M. Sugimoto, commander of the Coast Guard’s 11th District, wrote, “Please note that DPFs verified by CARB may not necessarily be accepted by the Coast Guard for installation on inspected commercial vessels.” The letter notes, “It is the engine manufacturers’ responsibility to ensure that engine systems are approved and certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for marine use and the applicable marine emission requirements.” To date, the federal EPA has not approved or endorsed CARB’s DPF rule.

Sugimoto’s letter stresses, “While final approval for the installation or modification of any system on vital machinery is the responsibility of the cognizant Coast Guard Officer in Charge, Marine Inspections, Coast Guard officers will not perform emissions tests on vessels operating in U.S. waters to evaluate DPF system performance.”

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The letter bluntly concludes, “Therefore, please note that the Coast Guard will not enforce California’s [commercial harbor craft] regulations.”

The Coast Guard’s letter follows months of lobbying to halt or pause the DPF rule both behind the scenes and in public forums by California’s marine industry and The American Waterways Operators (AWO).

In a letter sent to California Gov. Gavin Newsom February 22, one day after Adm. Sugimoto’s letter, Jennifer Carpenter, president and CEO of AWO, urged Newsom to “take immediate action to protect California’s harbor craft operators and coastal communities from untested and dangerous technology, and I urge you to rein in a state agency that is acting without necessary federal authorization.” Since previous efforts to discuss the situation with CARB had met with no response, Carpenter said, CARB’s actions have “created a regulatory trap and dangerous game of supply chain chicken as harbor craft operators are forced to weigh the unfortunate choice between noncompliance or abandoning California ports.”

As precedent for such emergency action by Newsom, Carpenter cited California’s earlier campaign to install DPFs on trucks, which was slowed down after several “horrific” truck fires when CARB tried to enforce compliance without waiting for federal regulators to get on board.

“The CHC rule deadlines should be extended to allow technology to catch up with the rulemaking and give vessel owners a more reasonable amount of time to plan for compliance, and CARB should delay enforcement until it receives CAA Section 209(e) authorization from the EPA,” Carpenter’s letter urged.