Change is in the air

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

30 November 2016


It may seem a long time ago now – although it is just 15 years – when the IMO temporarily switched its focus from safety to security following the 9/11 destructive terrorist attack in the US. There then came a brief period when the regulatory might of the IMO was commandeered for purposes that most of the industry considered unnecessary, expensive and time consuming. Although the ship security alert system (SSAS) was considered as quite a sensible move, the same could not be said for the ISPS Code most of the provisions of which were already covered by ISM but where proving compliance needed a new structure and certification of provisions, or of the hi-jacking of AIS for security reasons for which it proved totally unsuitable and the establishment of LRIT. It could be argued that most of these measures were done at the instigation of the US where security issues were dominating local politics. Once these measures were in place, the US appeared to lose a certain amount of interest in IMO proceedings during the remainder of the Bush presidency especially where environmental matters were concerned. Certainly it went its own way over bunker pollution and ballast and is not a signatory to the 2001 Bunker Convention or the 2004 Ballast Convention but has its own rules and regulations in place. After President Obama’s arrival on the scene in 2008, environmental matters were once more put on the US agenda culminating in the establishment of the two US ECAs and strong support for measures to control greenhouse gases. With both the US and the EU singing from the same hymn sheet it should come as no surprise that there have been developments in all areas of emission controls in recent years. While pursuing the environmental agenda at the IMO and other international stages, the Obama years also saw the EPA pushing related measures on the domestic agenda. However, with president elect Trump having vowed to make changes it seems that things are already beginning to happen. Yesterday the EPA announced that it plans to voluntarily withdraw a requirement that seven Texas coal-fired power plants reduce pollution, according to a filing with a federal appeals court. The EPA action against the power plants was brought under the Clean Air Act that requires states to craft a plan to address air pollution, or else be forced to implement a plan compiled by the EPA. Texas declined to create a plan, and along with power plant owners took its objections to the EPA’s plan to court. The EPA said it plans to soon file a motion to withdraw the regional haze rule with US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is reviewing it. It would seem that the EPA is coming to terms with the fact that its wings will be clipped when Trump takes office and rather than push an agenda is taking a pragmatic approach perhaps hoping it can hang on to some vestiges of power. It remains to be seen whether the Trump administration will be content with removing only domestic regulation that it sees as being detrimental to US economic interests or if it also plans to be active on a more international scale. If so, much of the EU-backed agenda at the IMO may well come under pressure as well.