By Lyz Bantilan for Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District
The Santa Barbara County Air Pollution District (APCD) is sponsoring AB 953 (Assemblymembers Gregg Hart and Damon Connolly) to build upon and expand the voluntary vessel speed reduction program, Protecting Blue Whales and Blue Skies, statewide. Expansion of the speed reduction and sustainable shipping program for the entire California coast would reduce air pollution, greenhouse gases, and the risk of fatal vessel strikes on whales.
Protecting Blue Whales and Blue Skies currently covers the Southern California (including the Santa Barbara Channel) and San Francisco Bay coastal regions and incentivizes companies to incorporate sustainable shipping practices across their global supply chain. By creating slow-speed zones where ocean-going container vessels and other ships voluntarily travel 10 knots or less in the designated areas, the program helps improve air quality and human health outcomes while protecting endangered whales.
“The Protecting Blue Whales and Blue Skies program has created incredible environmental benefits for air quality and whales since it launched in 2014,” said Santa Barbara County APCD Executive Director, Aeron Arlin Genet. “AB 953 will ensure that the entire California coast will benefit from decreased air pollution, reduced greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, and a safer environment for whales.”
“I am proud to joint author AB 953 with Assemblymember Connolly. The Santa Barbara voluntary vessel speed reduction program is a prime example of what happens when we prioritize public health, protect the marine ecosystem, and showcase the beneficial partnership between shipping companies, public health agencies, marine sanctuaries, and environmental organizations,” said Assemblymember Hart. “It is clear that this program needs to be expanded throughout the state.”
Santa Barbara County APCD and the Bay Area and Ventura County air districts are part of a unique partnership of federal and local government agencies, foundations, and environmental nonprofits that have administered the Protecting Blue Whales and Blue Skies since 2014.
Since the Protecting Blue Whales and Blue Skies inception through 2021, it has achieved 526,211 slow-speed miles, reducing more than 2,300 tons of oxides of nitrogen — which contributes to the formation of smog — as well as more than 76,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions and an estimated 50 percent decreased risk of fatal whale strikes during prime migration season in the targeted coastal areas.
AB 953 would task the Ocean Protection Council — in coordination with California air districts along the coast and in consultation with the federal Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Navy, the California Air Resources Board, and other stakeholders — to create a statewide voluntary vessel speed reduction and sustainable shipping program for the California coast. The bill would build upon the existing Protecting Blue Whales and Blue Skies program as well as any other existing local vessel speed reduction programs.