By Dennis Black

Americans are urged to drive less, carpool and bicycle more, drive smaller cars and turn down the thermostat to curb pollution.

But the biggest polluters are overseas.

Over the last several decades, more and more American industries moved to places like China to take advantage of cheap labor and nonexistent pollution laws.

The knives in your kitchen drawer, the toaster oven on your countertop, even the countertop itself, all once manufactured in the USA according to strict environmental standards, are now likely made in China where there are no limits on industrial pollution.

Everything from the bricks in the foreign factory’s walls to the electricity powering its machinery and the furnaces making its steel produces more air and water pollution than their counterparts in the U.S.

But it gets even worse – because all those knives, toaster ovens and countertops have to get from China (or wherever) to America.

And that takes more than Captain Kirk saying, “Beam me up, Scotty.”

It takes ships – cargo ships, container ships and tankers. More and more of them.

As multinational corporations have replaced the good old American factory with “global supply chains,” worldwide shipping activity has soared.

Some 60,000 ships carried about 10.7 billion tons of goods around the world in 2016 – a 300 percent jump from 1970, according to U.N. statistics.

And these ships don’t run on sails and wind power.

No sir, they burn the dirtiest fuel you never want to see. Known as “bunker oil,” it’s the pitch black, sludge-like dregs left over from the refining process. And it’s loaded with sulfur, a chemical responsible for producing acid rain, childhood asthma, heart disease and premature death.

All these ships burning all this filthy fuel makes the shipping industry one of the world’s largest sources of the most noxious forms of air pollution. Hundreds of millions of people are exposed.

It’s estimated that one container ship can produce the same amount of pollution as 50 million cars. Fifteen of these mega-ships out-pollute all the cars in the world.

Yes, some of the biggest polluters travel overseas – literally.

While environmentalists (or President Trump’s tariffs) have yet to shut down China’s filthy factories, there is a plan to clean up the shipping industry, an irreplaceable link in global supply chains.

Next January, cargo ships have to start using clean, low-sulfur fuel under a standard adopted by the International Maritime Organization.

The shipping and energy industries have been preparing for the changeover for years.

Public health experts estimate that the 2020 sulfur cap will prevent roughly 150,000 premature deaths and 7.6 million childhood asthma cases every year.

It will help America’s economic health as well. The U.S. energy industry is best positioned to dominate production of the low-sulfur fuel required by the standards.

America produces low-sulfur crude, and the U.S. refining industry has invested more than $100 billion in infrastructure upgrades to blend enough of the new fuel to meet demand after the changeover.

Meanwhile, our adversaries in Russia and Venezuela stand to be the biggest losers.

Venezuela is one of the world’s largest exporters of high-sulfur fuel, but it has not invested in upgrades to their refineries to blend the mandated low-sulfur fuel.

Russian refineries have yet to produce any low-sulfur fuel, and Russia could lose $3.5 billion in 2020 alone, more than a third of its refining revenue.

Energy experts all agree that the transition to low-sulfur fuel will hurt our foreign rivals.

But delaying the transition to low-sulfur fuel would hurt Americans. It would harm U.S. refiners that employ thousands of workers, often in economically disadvantaged communities.

Five American refiners lost a combined $11 billion when the Wall Street Journal reported that the administration was merely considering delaying implementation.

The refining industry is known for responding quickly to market demands, and this time is no different.

The market is ready for the new fuels, and refiners are ready to work with the administration to ensure a smooth transition.

Americans working in the refinery industry will benefit economically, and all Americans will breathe easier.


Dennis Black is the president of the American Jobs Alliance.

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.