California approves updated "At-Berth" regulation to cut pollution

Long Beach californai Shipping port

On 27 August 2020, the California Air Resources Board (“CARB”) approved a new regulation designed to further reduce pollution from ocean-going vessels while docked at California’s busiest ports. The At-Berth regulation was adopted in 2007 to reduce diesel particulate matter (PM) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx) from ocean-going vessels auxiliary engines while they are docked at California ports.  According to CARB, that rule has achieved an 80 percent reduction in harmful emissions from more than 13,000 vessel visits since 2014. For more information on the Ocean-Going Vessels At Berth regulation and CARB’s FAQs on the same, please click here and here.

The current regulation applies to container ships, reefers and cruise ships. The updated rule adds auto carriers and tankers to the list of vessel categories which will be required to control pollution when they run auxiliary engines or auxiliary boilers (for most tanker vessels) while docked.

The rule requires that every vessel coming into a regulated California port either uses shore power (e.g. plug in to the local electrical grid) or a CARB-approved control technology to reduce harmful emissions which include diesel particulate matter, fine particulate matter (PM2.5) oxides of nitrogen (NOx, a precursor to smog), reactive organic gases (ROG, another precursor to smog), greenhouse gases, and oxides of sulfur (SOx). One example of an alternative to shore power is what is known as capture-and-control technology that employs a “bonnet” to cover a ship’s exhaust stacks, both containing and treating harmful emissions.

The current regulation stays in force through 2022. The updated regulation starts in 2023 when container, reefers and cruise ships will transition to the new regulation. Auto carriers will need to comply starting in 2025. Tankers docking at the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach must also comply starting in 2025, while tankers in Northern California have until 2027 to comply. 

Ship owners, terminal and port operators requiring additional time to comply with the updated regulation may petition CARB to use alternative means of achieving equivalent or greater emissions reductions in port-adjacent communities, such as purchasing zero-emission heavy-duty trucks for port use. Proposed projects will require extensive community review as well as CARB approval.

Ships or terminals unable to connect a vessel to an emissions control technology (due to equipment failure, port congestion, etc.) during a visit may be able to comply with the regulation by requesting a Terminal or Vessel Incident Event, a limited number of which are granted to each regulated terminal operator and vessel fleet per year.

In limited circumstances, there may also be an opportunity to pay into a remediation fund in the event of an inability to comply. These funds must be used for environmental projects that will benefit port-adjacent neighborhoods.

An interim evaluation will be conducted in 2022 to evaluate progress and to identify any problems relating to implementation or compliance with the updated At-Berth Regulation.

CARB’s news release may be read in full here.


Jacqueline Tan

Legal Services Manager