As a recreational boat, the 54-foot sportfishing boat Backstabber Wesmac launched last year was exempt from EPA Tier 4 emissions requirements and was powered with a 1,900-horsepower Caterpillar diesel engine. FILE PHOTO

Maine boatbuilders may get a break from EPA diesel limits

SURRY — More than a decade ago, the Environmental Protection Agency adopted new “Tier 4” emission standards covering marine diesel engines used in, among other vessels, lobster boats.

Phased in over a period of years, by the end of 2017 the rules effectively limited diesel engines used in commercial boats to no more than 805 horsepower each. Before the rule became effective, boatbuilders could install larger diesels that met less stringent “Tier 3” requirements.

During the same time period, Maine lobstermen began fishing farther and farther offshore. They wanted bigger boats that would be safer where they fished — some as far as 40 miles or more from the coast — and could carry big loads of traps to limit the number of trips needed to set out and recover their gear.

They also wanted faster boats so they could get to the fishing grounds, spend the day hauling and get home in time for dinner.

Big, fast boats need big, powerful engines and, thanks to the EPA requirements, those engines didn’t exist. The technical requirements for making big diesels comply with the Tier 4 rules

“There are no engines available that are big enough to safely operate our (biggest) boats offshore,” Stewart Workman, owner of SW Boatworks in Lamoine, said last October.

Surry boatbuilder Steve Wessel said last fall that his company, Wesmac Custom Boats, had the same problem.

“I’ve got 54-. 55-, 57-foot boats to build, and I’m restricted to 803 horsepower. This is creating havoc among customers and builders.”

Last week, the EPA announced a proposal to delay the Tier 4 engine requirements for commercial boats and to make it easier for engine manufacturers to obtain certification that new engines complied with the stricter emissions rules. For fiberglass-hulled commercial boats (primarily lobster boats) no longer than 50 feet, the stricter requirements would be delayed until “model year” 2024 so they could continue to use Tier 3 engines. Beginning in 2024, builders of those types of boats could make written application to EPA for a “waiver” to allow them to install Tier 3 engines.

The proposed rule change doesn’t help Wessel, who said last week that the high-powered Tier 3 diesels he needs aren’t available because the manufacturers have stopped making them. The difficulties are compounded for Wesmac because it is one of the very few boatbuilders producing fiberglass commercial and fishing boats longer than 50 feet.

“It’s still a huge problem for me,” he said. “This is costing us a lot of work.”

Wesmac has several customers interested in boats ranging from 54 to 60 feet in length, many of them lobster fishermen, but they want big engines and the cupboard is bare.

Wesmac started construction on two new 54-foot research boats before the Tier 4 requirements became effective last year that were supposed to have 1,400-horsepower engines installed so they could achieve their contractually required speeds. Both have smaller engines installed.

“I scoured the whole country and I found two 1,000-horsepower engines,” Wessel said. “There’s nothing to pick up in Tier 3; they’re all gone.”

In the winter of 2017, the Maine Lobstermen’s Association wrote to then EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt asking the agency to maintain the less restrictive Tier 3 emission requirements for the useful life engine displacing between 12 and 32 liters installed in a single-engine lobster boat displacing no more than about 80,000 pounds. Currently, Wesmac’s largest boat, a 54-footer, displaces about 55,000 pounds.

According to Wessel, many lobstermen regard the engine rules as unfair because it only applies to commercial boats, not big recreational boats.

“A guy who wants to build a ‘cocktail boat’ can have any horsepower he wants,” Wessel said.

The EPA has invited public comments on the proposed rule change. The deadline is sometime in late September, 30 days after notice of the proposed rule was actually published in the Federal Register.

Stephen Rappaport

Stephen Rappaport

Waterfront Editor at The Ellsworth American
Stephen Rappaport has lived in Maine for nearly 30 years. A lifelong sailor, he spends as much time as possible messing about in boats. [email protected]

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