University of San Diego

San Diego Journal of Climate & Energy Law


Michael W. Reed

Library of Congress Authority File


Controlling atmospheric pollution which originates beyond national borders always presents difficult issues. The problems are multiplied when the source is a merchant vessel, registered under a foreign flag of convenience and operating seaward of state and federal sovereign limits. Nevertheless, international law provides alternative approaches through which the coastal sovereign may protect its onshore environmental interests.

The purpose of this paper is to lay out the problems, both factual and legal, and discuss means by which they may be resolved. California is used as a case study. The state has long suffered from excessive air pollution. Congress acknowledged the state?s unique situation when, in the Clean Air Act, it singled California out for special consideration. Of course, much of Californias original air pollution problem arose from onshore sources, both mobile and stationary. Since the passage of the Clean Air Act, great strides have been made in reducing harmful emissions from those sources. But merchant vessels contribute substantially to onshore pollution, with adverse consequences for both public health and global warming. Until recently, relatively little had been done to cure that defect. The discussion which follows details steps that California and the federal government have taken in that direction.