March 28, 2023

Volume XIII, Number 87


March 27, 2023

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U.S. Coast Guard Signals Intent to Initiate Rulemaking to Implement Ship Efficiency and Carbon Intensity Regulations Under MARPOL Annex VI

The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) recently announced that it plans to develop and propose regulations to implement the provisions of MARPOL Annex VI, Chapter 4, including various shipboard energy efficiency measures aimed at reducing carbon emissions linked to climate change.1 The USCG states it is doing so in support of the Biden administration’s goals outlined in Executive Order 14008, entitled “Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad.” According to this filing, the regulations will apply to U.S.-flagged ships and foreign-flagged ships operating either in U.S. navigable waters or in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone.


In June 2021, the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Marine Environmental Protection Committee adopted new regulations in MARPOL Annex VI aimed at significantly reducing carbon intensity and greenhouse gas emissions from shipping over the next decade, and beyond.2 These measures include the Energy Efficiency Existing Ship Index (EEXI), the Carbon Intensity Indicator (CII) rating scheme, and provisions for an enhanced Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan, all of which will apply to existing vessels covered under the IMO regulations. Some IMO Member States, including the United States, as well as various maritime industry groups, are now advocating for a significant acceleration of these efforts.3

As is typical, these changes were undertaken at IMO under the MARPOL Convention’s tacit amendment process. Under this procedure, absent some objection or reservation to the new regulations by the United States government, changes to MARPOL’s annexes generally become binding U.S. law without the need for additional legislation or regulation. At this point, most of the new MARPOL efficiency and carbon intensity regulations will therefore become binding when those regulations enter into force globally in 2023.


In its announcement, the USCG stated it intends to propose regulations to implement these new provisions of MARPOL Annex VI and to “fill gaps in the existing framework,” and to “explain how the United States has chosen to carry out certain discretionary aspects of Annex VI.” After considering several options, the USCG stated that it found it “necessary” to develop such regulations. The underlying legal text of the recently adopted MARPOL regulations will not be changed through this rulemaking. However, this announcement is an indication that the agency feels that there is sufficient ambiguity and discretion in these new MARPOL regulations that requires further elaboration and clarification through a rulemaking.

It is unclear at this point exactly which “gaps” and “discretionary aspects” of the new IMO regulations the rulemaking will address. There are many possibilities. It might address potential ambiguities about which vessels are covered by the regulations and which are not, how various IMO guidelines will be interpreted and implemented for U.S.-flagged vessels, how EEXI and CII surveys and enforcement will be carried out, and potentially many other aspects of implementation and interpretation of MARPOL Annex VI that could impact U.S.-flagged vessels, as well as foreign flagged vessels calling on U.S. ports.


In its timetable, the USCG’s announcement indicates the proposed regulations may be released in May 2022. While the extent and scope of this particular rulemaking is unclear, IMO decarbonization regulations are likely to be transformative for the maritime industry in the years ahead. This rulemaking will provide a window of opportunity for the maritime industry and others in the regulated community to provide input into how the United States will exercise its discretion under MARPOL, and how it will implement and interpret these important provisions of the Convention.


1 The USCG’s announcement, filed with the Office of Management and Budget, may be accessed here.

2 These regulations were developed in furtherance of the IMO’s Initial Strategy on the Reduction of GHG Emissions from Ships, which was published in 2018.

3 Further details of these regulations were discussed in our prior alerts and our webinars on this subject, which may be accessed herehere and here

Copyright 2023 K & L GatesNational Law Review, Volume XII, Number 52

About this Author

Luke Reid Litigation Attorney KL Gates

Luke Reid is a partner in the firm’s Boston office. Mr. Reid provides advice and representation in connection with government investigations, criminal and civil litigation, maritime regulatory compliance, environmental enforcement defense, and international law. Since entering private practice in 2012, he has represented numerous maritime corporations and individuals in a variety of civil and criminal matters, including matters before the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Labor, and other government enforcement and regulatory agencies. Most recently...

Jeffrey King, KLGates, litigation lawyer

Mr. King’s practice has concentrated in complex commercial litigation and arbitration in a variety of areas, including business disputes, admiralty, transportation, product liability, toxic tort, and environmental matters. His clients include financial institutions, transportation companies, and manufacturers. He represents commercial interests in various disputes, including deal, shareholder, loan, privacy, and contract litigation. His maritime and transportation experience has involved representing clients in personal injury and death defense, cargo damage, equipment...

Brody Garland Public Policy & Law K&L Gates Washington DC
Government Affairs Analyst

Brody Garland is a government affairs specialist in the firm’s Washington, D.C. office. His practice focuses on transportation, infrastructure, and maritime policy issues. In his current capacity, he advises over 30 partners, associates, and policy practice professionals on legislative, regulatory, and political proceedings on client matters related to aviation, energy, infrastructure, maritime, telecommunications, trade, and transportation policies. His efforts have helped the K&L Gates policy team secure favorable bill language and millions of dollars in congressional appropriations...