ELLSWORTH — Maine’s beleaguered lobster fishermen got some rare good news last week, though it will benefit only a handful of them.
In a visit to Maine last Thursday, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced a further delay in emissions control rules for large diesel engines to be installed in lobster boats. The delay also applies to boats used by harbor pilots.
The EPA has adopted new amendments to the national marine diesel engine program to address the lack of available certified “Tier 4” marine diesel engines for use in lightweight, high-speed commercial vessels.
“We appreciate the EPA listening to and addressing the concerns of hard-working lobstermen and boatbuilders from Maine,” Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA) President Kristan Porter said in a statement released after the MLA press conference where the EPA rule change was announced. “Delaying the implementation of the Tier 4 requirements for commercial fishing boats allows the industry to better address safety and availability issues.”
In 2008, the EPA phased in new Tier 4 emission standards for new commercial marine diesel engines of approximately 805 horsepower or more. The deadline for compliance with the new standards related to the engine’s power rating, with some new engines being required to comply in 2014 and others with a final compliance in 2017.
Those regulations posed a problem for Maine lobstermen who wanted bigger, faster boats to fish offshore and for the Maine boatbuilders producing those boats. The design of the Maine lobster boat, with relatively shallow hulls for their length left insufficient room to install existing Tier 4 engines and engine manufacturers have yet to develop Tier 4 technology for engines that will fit into a typical large lobster boat.
The new rules announced last week are “giving fishermen a break,” Steve Wessel, president of Wesmac Custom Boats in Surry, said Monday. Wesmac specializes in building larger boats, some as large 54 feet in length, and the company currently has a 60-footer on the drawing board. Those big boats require more than 805 horsepower to deliver the speed and performance fishermen require, power that is only available from engines that meet the existing Tier 3 standards.
“It’s going to be helpful to commercial fishermen that we’re given permission to put Tier 3 engines in,” Wessel said. “We heard it was coming, but it’s a relief that it’s finally in writing.”
After the Tier 4 standards were fully in effect for all engine sizes, the EPA came to learn that, for certain types of commercial vessels that utilized engines with rated power between 805 and 1,877 horsepower and required relatively high horsepower to weight performance, certified Tier 4 engines were “wholly unavailable” for new vessel construction.
“This action responds to those regulatory problems in a focused manner that accommodates the needs of these small but vital commercial interests, while at the same time being careful to preserve the progress EPA has been making in reducing emissions from marine diesel engines,” the EPA said in a statement released last week.
“We are pleased to have worked together with the EPA to find a common-sense solution that supports Maine boat builders and lobstermen,” U.S. Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Angus King (I-Maine) and U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) and Jared Golden (D-Maine) said in a joint statement. “Without today’s regulatory relief, boat builders would be unable to build these types of high-speed vessels, leaving those in the market for a new boat the choice between either purchasing underpowered, unsuitable vessels or using existing vessels with older, dirtier engines.”
The final EPA action allows for the continued installation of Tier 3 engines in new vessels for a limited time — until 2022 or 2024, depending upon the size and type of vessel. In addition, the final amendments provide for a waiver process to accommodate the situation should suitable Tier 4 engines continue to be unavailable in the future.