Like most Charleston residents, I have followed the debate surrounding the State Ports Authority’s plan to redevelop Union Pier into a world-class cruise terminal.

Previously, I expressed my opposition to the frivolous lawsuit brought against Carnival — a corporation I believe to be a strong community partner. However, the newest argument by port opponents implying that cruise ships result in higher levels of air pollution required closer investigation.

As vice chairman of the Legislative Review and Oversight Commission of the State Ports Authority and chairman of the House Ways and Means subcommittee that writes the budget of the Park, Recreation and Tourism Department, I am compelled to ask air quality questions as this issue affects both of those business sectors.

The answers I found suggest there is very little accuracy in the information being disseminated by port opponents. The citizens of Charleston deserve to know the facts about cruise ships and the pros and cons that will accompany the construction of a new terminal.

The Charleston area has some of the cleanest air in the nation, as evidenced by the American Lung Association State of the Air 2012 Report. Additionally, the cruise industry and the SPA are in compliance with all state, federal and local air quality requirements. The SPA has even been recognized by both DHEC and the EPA as a leader in diesel reduction efforts for the Charleston region.

These items bode well for Charleston, but federal guidelines further protect our local air quality. In August, the North American Emissions Control Area (ECA) went into effect, reducing a ship’s allowable fuel sulfur content to 1 percent. All ships that call on our port — cargo and cruise — comply with this new standard, which will be decreased again in 2015 to 0.1 percent, further reducing emissions and improving air quality.

Furthermore, in an effort to quantify the air quality impact to surrounding residents, the SPA undertook a detailed analysis of terminal impacts by using three possible operating scenarios at Union Pier Terminal.

The study examined the operating scenario for 2010, before the ECA went into effect, when there was substantial cargo movement as well as cruise ships operating at Union Pier.

It then looked at the 2012 operating scenario, with the 1 percent ECA in effect and no other significant activity at Union Pier.

And finally, it reviewed the 2015 operating scenario when the ECA will be fully implemented and the efficiencies of the new cruise terminal are realized.

The results of this comparison overwhelmingly support the completion of the new terminal.

The 2012 scenario, in which Union Pier is used exclusively as a cruise terminal and includes the 1 percent ECA, reduces emissions from the 2010 scenario by 74 percent. The 2015 new terminal scenario represents another 6 percent reduction from 2012, producing an 80 percent reduction in total emissions from maritime activity at Union Pier when compared with the 2010 data.

In a recent presentation to the BCD Council of Governments, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control Bureau of Air Quality demonstrated that air quality has improved in the Charleston region regardless of the presence of cruise ships.

DHEC daily monitoring data shows that of the 50 days in 2011 where there was an air quality concern, cruise ships were only present 7 of those days, or 14 percent of the time.

DHEC further stated that as coal- fired power plants in the area convert to natural gas or are replaced by nuclear power, air quality in the area will improve even further.

The implementation of ECA, ongoing diesel reduction efforts, and the conversion of older power plants to cleaner, more efficient fuels is going to result in the cleanest per capita air that Charleston has experienced since before the industrial revolution.

The new terminal will result in an 80 percent reduction in emissions for the areas immediately surrounding Union Pier.

As an elected official and a resident who supports the environmental community both financially and legislatively, I urge the cruise terminal opponents to stop using air quality concerns as a red herring because the facts speak for themselves.

Jim Merrill, R-Berkeley, represents District 99 (parts of Berkeley and Charleston counties) in the S.C. House, where he has served since 2001.