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U.S. Refiners to Deliver Cleaner Marine Diesel Fuel with Key Regulatory Change

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WASHINGTON (Dec. 11, 2019) — To aid the smooth implementation of the Jan. 1 2020 (IMO 2020) global marine fuel limit for sulfur that takes effect January 1, 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is revising key regulatory text to ensure that U.S. refiners and suppliers can permissibly distribute cleaner global marine fuel for use in ships operating outside of our Emission Control Areas (ECAs). The international sulfur content limit for fuel used outside ECAs is currently 35,000 parts per million (ppm) and is decreasing to 5,000 ppm. This reduction is expected to lead to significant health and welfare benefits globally.

“These targeted regulatory corrections will clear the way for U.S. refiners to provide cleaner marine fuel for ships that sail across the globe,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “Hitting this key deadline is vital to meeting the terms of this important treaty that protects air quality and human health both at home and abroad.”

These technical corrections to the diesel fuel regulations will allow fuel suppliers to distribute distillate diesel fuel that complies with the 5,000 ppm international sulfur standard for ships instead of the fuel standards that otherwise apply to distillate diesel fuel in the U.S.

This new sulfur limit is not as stringent as the limit that applies in designated U.S. ECAs, currently set at 1,000 ppm (and in effect since 2015), but is more stringent than the current global limit and is expected to lead to significant health and welfare benefits globally.

Global fuel and emissions standards are contained in Annex VI to the International Convention on the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, a treaty called “MARPOL.”


EPA participates on the U.S. delegation to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which is part of the United Nations. The Marine Environment Protection Committee is a group of member states within IMO that works on maritime safety and security and the prevention of marine pollution. The resulting global standards are embodied in MARPOL. In particular, MARPOL Annex VI defines engine and vessel requirements related to air pollution.

The first round of standards under MARPOL Annex VI, adopted in 1997 and entered into force in 2005, involved maximum allowable sulfur concentrations in marine fuels, and maximum oxides of nitrogen (NOx) emission rates in engine exhaust. MARPOL Annex VI was amended in 2008, most importantly to set more stringent fuel sulfur limits and more stringent NOx emission standards, especially for vessel operation in designated Emission Control Areas ECAs.

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