April 15, 2021

Chairs DeFazio, Carbajal Statements from Hearing on Practical Steps Toward a Carbon-Free Maritime Industry

Washington, D.C. — The following are opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, from Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Chair of the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Salud Carbajal (D-CA) during today’s hearing titled, “Practical Steps Toward a Carbon-Free Maritime Industry: Updates on Fuels, Ports, and Technology.” Video of DeFazio and Carbajal’s opening statements are here and here. More information on the hearing can be found here.

Chair DeFazio:

Thank you, Chair Carbajal, and thank you for having a hearing on the important topic of reducing emissions and decarbonizing the maritime industry.

This hearing builds upon our efforts across all modes of transportation to reduce carbon emissions in order to address climate change. This hearing comes at a crucial time as we aim towards Building Back Better, creating American jobs, and becoming global leaders in new technologies.

With the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting global cargo movements, the role of the maritime industry is front and center. Between the EVER GIVEN’s blockage of the Suez Canal and the major backlog on the West Coast, the American public is newly aware of the importance of the maritime supply chain. I hope that this presents an opportunity to discuss the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions and practical ways to reduce them.

Climate change is real and we’re already starting to see the consequences. The international maritime industry accounts for 3 percent of the world’s carbon emissions with the potential to grow to 10 percent by 2050 if significant changes are not made. The maritime industry cannot afford to waste any time; we must decarbonize now.

We often hear of electric vehicles or revitalizing our energy grid, but what most fail to realize is the potential that exists within our maritime infrastructure. Industry is already hard at work researching and developing vessel infrastructure for the alternative fuels of the future, such as hydrogen, ammonia, methanol, and battery power.

Some American companies, such as Element One in my home state of Oregon, are developing new technologies to utilize hydrogen fuel cells aboard ships using seawater and methanol— this technology is now available at various re-fueling hubs across the country and world.

Ports are building out and investing in critical shore-side infrastructure to electrify their operations, and states are providing some financial aid to help cover the upfront costs. Projects such as these are capital-intensive and in their infancy, so federal investment may be necessary. I have no doubt that our foreign competitors will be subsidizing their maritime industries.

The Biden administration is prioritizing emissions reduction across transportation sectors, and international agreements are setting targets for maritime carbon emissions reduction by 2050. But now is not the time for us to take the back seat; Congress needs to implement strong and progressive measures to reach the goal of a fully decarbonized maritime industry.

There are many steps we can take to support this vital work. For instance, we can increase grant funding for ports looking to add shore-side power hookups for vessels to run on electricity, to purchase electric cargo handling equipment, and to construct microgrids that integrate clean energy sources such as offshore wind.

We must identify ways to position the United States as a leader in new technologies across the transportation sector. Doing so will create lasting, middle class jobs for longshore workers, mariners, and shipbuilders as well as jobs associated with the research, development, and maintenance of new technologies.

Today, I am excited to hear from an excellent panel of folks who are leading the charge on decarbonizing the maritime industry. There is no one size fits all, and we know there will be different solutions for different maritime problems. That’s why it is our job to support a wide array of practical yet progressive steps as we steer the shipping industry toward a decarbonized future. And while we will hear some success stories today, I want to remind us all that there is still much more to be done to reach the goal of zero carbon emissions.

Chair Carbajal:

Good morning, and welcome to today’s Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee hearing on “Practical Steps Toward a Carbon-Free Maritime Industry.” Today, we will examine the progress toward eliminating carbon emissions in the maritime industry, and how Congress can be supportive. This work is crucial to mitigating the effects of climate change. Without decisive action in the maritime industry and elsewhere, we are going to experience severe impacts on our way of life from sea-level rise, flooding, and extreme weather events.

Climate change is the most important challenge of our time. As we seek solutions, we must capitalize on the opportunity to promote American innovation and bolster the American workforce.

Burning fossil fuels in the maritime industry and elsewhere results in the emission of greenhouse gases and other air pollutants that are harmful to human health. Greenhouse gases also absorb and trap heat in our atmosphere, which has led to shifts in regional climate patterns that have consequences for our food and water systems, public and private infrastructure, and national security. The science is crystal clear, we are vulnerable to climate changes due to human actions.

Over the past 171 years, human activities have raised atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide by 48% above pre-industrial levels found in 1850. The last time the atmospheric carbon dioxide amounts were this high was more than 3 million years ago, when temperature was 3.6 to 5.4 degrees higher than during the pre-industrial era, and sea level was 50 to 80 feet higher than today.

Unfortunately, many of the worst air pollution problems occur in communities comprised of minority populations. Port communities are directly exposed to nitrous oxide, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter, and have some of the country’s highest asthma rates. Many of these citizens make up our maritime and longshore workforce, so their health is not only a moral issue but also a public good for sustaining maritime commerce.

Commerce by sea is cleaner and safer than transportation by land, and we should do everything possible to encourage more waterborne transportation, but traditional maritime fuel emits harmful greenhouse gases contributing to global and regional climate change. International shipping accounts for 3 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, and if it were a country, the sector would be the world’s sixth-largest emitter.

The International Maritime Organization has set an ambitious goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 50 percent before 2050, but that is not possible unless the industry takes immediate and aggressive action. But that is not enough. Maritime carbon emissions must be eliminated if we are to avoid the most devastating impacts of climate change. While the challenge can seem daunting, we must recognize and capitalize on the opportunity for American industry to innovate and lead the pack. If we develop new forms of energy generation, we can create jobs for American workers.

 We are already seeing positive steps taken by ports, vessel owners, shipyards, academic institutions, and state and local governments such as the Santa Barbara Air Pollution Control District in California’s 24th Congressional District. The Air Pollution Control District has developed a vessel speed reduction program that has not only cut carbon emissions but has reduced noise pollution in our local waterways and avoided vessel strikes with local marine mammals. I am convinced that if we think outside the box, we can bolster our maritime industry, create new jobs, and position America as the leader in maritime technologies.

I look forward to hearing from our expert witnesses on ways to reach our ambitious emissions goals while stimulating the U.S. economy and domestic job growth.