wave.jpgFederal environmental regulators in San Francisco today announced a new plan to ban large cruise and cargo ships from discharging their sewage within three miles of California’s coastline.

The move is part of an effort to close what California environmental agencies and environmental groups said is a gap in the state’s coastal water protection. The proposal, which would ban ships weighing 300 tons or more from releasing sewage within three miles of the state’s 1,600 miles of coastline, is expected to take effect after a 60-day comment period, which begins today.

“What this will do is say it’s illegal to discharge sewage of any kind in this three-mile zone,” said Jared Blumenfeld, regional administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, at a news conference overlooking the San Francisco Bay late this morning.

Blumenfeld said Californians view the state’s coastline “as a treasured, pristine place” that supports recreation, tourism and the fishing industry.

He said California’s no-discharge zone, which would be enforced by the U.S. Coast Guard, would be the largest in the country and would eliminate an estimated 20 million gallons of sewage from coastal waters.

The new regulation “will give us the final authority we’ve been seeking,” California Secretary for Environmental Protection Linda Adams said.

The state had requested that the EPA establish the no-discharge zone under the federal Clean Water Act.

Russell Long of Friends of the Earth called it ” a little bit of good news” for a marine environment “under siege” by oil spills, garbage, ocean acidification and polar melting.

He, like Blumenfeld, called on other states to consider similar measures.

“We hope that this will be precedent-setting,” Blumenfeld said.

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