Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Pacific Merchant Shipping Asso. v. Goldstene (CARB)

Mar 28: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, Case No. 09-17765. Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California. Plaintiff Pacific Merchant Shipping Association (PMSA) appealed the District Court's denial of its motion for summary judgment in its action against Defendant James Goldstene, the Executive Officer of the California Air Resources Board (CARB). PMSA challenged, on Federal statutory and constitutional grounds, California fuel use regulations (known as the Vessel Fuel Rules) insofar as they purport to apply to sea-going vessels located more than 3 miles from the California coast. The Appeals Court affirmed the district court ruling.
    On April 16, 2009, CARB transmitted the "Vessel Fuel Rules" to the California Secretary of State for filing pursuant to state law, and the regulations went into effect as planned on July 1, 2009. As the District Court noted, the express purpose of the Vessel Fuel Rules "is to reduce air pollutants affecting the State of California by requiring ocean-going vessels to use cleaner marine fuels." The regulations were adopted only after a lengthy process that included consultation with the public, state and local agencies, and the federal government.
    The Vessel Fuel Rules mandate that vessel operators "use cleaner marine fuels in diesel and diesel-electric engines, main propulsion engines, and auxiliary boilers on vessels operating within twenty-four nautical miles off the California coastline."
Specifically, the regulations apply to a geographical region known as "Regulated California Waters," which includes the waters within 24 nautical miles of the state's shoreline. In general, the Vessel Fuel Rules only cover vessels calling at a California port, and they accordingly contain an express exemption for vessels simply traveling through the region (known as "innocent passage").
    In discussion, the Appeals Court said, ". . .we are not currently confronted with a state attempting to regulate conduct in either another state of the Union (such as in PMSA's example of a hypothetical California regulatory scheme requiring automobiles driving from Arizona to switch to certain kinds of fuel 24 miles from the California border), in the territory or waters of a foreign nation (such as, in another example provided by PMSA, a regulation governing fuel use in Shanghai harbor), or in the open ocean waters hundreds or even thousands of miles from the state's coast. In contrast, the state of California clearly has an especially powerful interest in controlling the harmful effects of air pollution resulting from the fuel used by ocean-going vessels while they are within 24 miles of the state's coast. . ."
    In it conclusion the Appeals Court said, "In the end, we acknowledge the unusual characteristics and circumstances of the Vessel Fuel Rules. We are clearly dealing with an expansive and even possibly unprecedented state regulatory scheme. However, the severe environmental problems confronting California (especially Southern California) are themselves unusual and even unprecedented. Under the circumstances, we do not believe that the Commerce Clause or general maritime law should be used to bar a state from exercising its own police powers in order to combat these severe problems."
    Access the complete opinion (click here).