Can EPA require ships from other nations to conform to US air quality standards if they want to dock at US ports? They're about to try.
On Mar. 30, 2009, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced that EPA has asked the International Maritime Organization (IMO, a UN agency that coordinates regulation of international shipping) to create an emissions control area (ECA) around the US coastline. Proposed emission standards would cut sulfur in fuel by 98 percent, particulate matter emissions by 85 percent, and nitrogen oxide emissions by 80 percent from the current global requirements.
This is a story that could impact ports, large or small, on any of the U.S. coasts — and readers or viewers who live and work near them.
To achieve these reductions, ships must use fuel containing no more than 1,000 parts per million sulfur beginning in 2015. Also, new ships must use advanced emission control technologies beginning in 2016. ECA program details.  This is part of EPA's larger Clean Ports national diesel campaign.  The IMO is expected to review the request at its July meeting, and the designation would go into effect in 2012.
In October 2008, the IMO announced rules  (beginning 2012) lowering the maximum sulfur content in fuel for ships traveling in international waters. These rules would also provide stricter air quality protection in designated areas with demonstrated air pollution problems. IMO press(UK): Natasha Brown,  +44 (0)20 7587 3274.
On March 31, a Greenwire story  reprinted in Scientific American explained that: "EPA has proposed that a 230-mile buffer zone around the nation's coastline be subject to those tougher regulations." This story is also a good, quick overview of the context and history of shipping air pollution.
News of the EPA proposal broke on the same day a new report on air pollution around US ports, "Protecting American Health from Global Shipping Pollution," was jointly released by the Environmental Defense Fund, American Lung Association, National Association of Clean Air Agencies, and the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. The report strongly backs the EPA request for the buffer zone:
Leading organizations for the global shipping industry, the International Chamber of Shipping and the International Shipping Federation, can both be found here.  Contacts for shipping industry organizations  in each member country.
Chamber of Shipping of America: 202-775-4399.