The Los Angeles-Long Beach Clean Air Action Plan launched the port industry’s green revolution in 2006, and the improvements some five years later are far beyond what the Southern California ports’ strongest critics, and their biggest backers, planned for or even could have imagined.
That makes the United States’ largest port complex the model for what can be accomplished when a port is determined to reduce pollution from trucks and ships — and how to quell the clean-air controversies that stand in the way of trade growth.
Port officials in Los Angeles and Long Beach say the gains they have made clearing the air have also cleared obstacles to development, allowing them to add capacity and cargo-handling capabilities that will allow the ports to maintain their competitive edge.
Since the cleanup plan was implemented, Los Angeles and Long Beach easily achieved their five-year goal of reducing total port pollution by 45 percent and truck emissions by 80 percent. The ports have already achieved the goals they set for 2014, said Chris Cannon, director of environmental management at the Port of Los Angeles. The Clean Air Action Plan last year was updated to set even stricter emissions standards, he said.
Since the baseline year of 2005, particulate matter emissions at the port complex have been reduced some 70 percent, nitrogen oxide emissions are down almost 50 percent and sulfur oxide emissions have decreased 75 percent.
The ports provided some 40 percent of the sulfur oxide pollution in 2005, and the contribution is now half that. The ports once contributed 18 percent of particulate matter emissions and 10 percent of the region’s nitrous oxide emissions; both those figures have been cut in half. The ports recently said they are the only port facilities in the country with no drayage trucks with pre-2007 engines.
Those are enviable measures, but it’s also clearer than ever that it’s unlikely any port could ever move as fast, efficiently and aggressively as Los Angeles and Long Beach did to reduce pollution under the unique blend of politics and business that hang over commerce in the sprawling California basin that connects the country to global trade.
Although most U.S. ports have clean-air programs and many are pressured to reduce emissions from trucks and ocean vessels, the political, environmental and social forces that spawned the Los Angeles-Long Beach CAAP were unique to Southern California and are unlikely to be repeated elsewhere. That doesn’t mean ports from the Pacific Northwest to the Northeast can’t learn from the LA-Long Beach experience, and its success, however.
“Other ports look at what we did as a menu, and pick what works for them,” said Christopher Patton, assistant director of environmental management at the Port of Los Angeles.
The successes Los Angeles and Long Beach now measure in cleaner air around the San Pedro Bay were born in a rough period that saw the region become something of a poster child for poor port environmental standards.
The years 2000 to 2005 were especially tumultuous in Southern California. Port cargo volumes were increasing at 10 percent a year because of booming trade with Asia, with no end in sight to the growth. Meanwhile, independent studies showed communities along the freight-movement corridors serving the ports had significantly elevated rates of cancer and respiratory diseases. Community concerns escalated in these so-called diesel death zones when the state of California defined diesel emissions a carcinogen, and the controversy brought harsh national media coverage.
Local residents charged, rightfully so, that their voices were not being heard as the ports continued to attract more cargo, said Rick Cameron, director of environmental planning at the Port of Long Beach.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, an activist advocacy group, formed alliances with community, labor and faith-based organizations to challenge every environmental impact report the ports produced, blocking for seven years construction of any new terminal or rail project. The NRDC’s strategy paid off when a court declared Los Angeles’ EIR for expansion of the China Shipping terminal to be inadequate.
“It gave us credibility, and a certain fear factor,” said David Pettit, director of the NRDC’s Southern California air program.
The California Environmental Quality Act, the nation’s strictest environmental law, made the NRDC’s aggressive litigation efforts even more effective. Pettit said the ports realized they would never again build a container terminal or intermodal rail facility unless they revamped their environmental review processes.
The ports responded in 2006 with the CAAP, the nation’s most comprehensive, and successful, clean-air program. “We had to come out of the gate strong,” Cameron said. The key to the success of the CAAP was to get the cooperation of port users — including terminal operators, truckers and shippers — as well as the support of federal, state and local regulatory bodies and nearby communities, Cameron said.
The CAAP uses port leases to mandate, encourage and incentivize adherence to programs such as a truck ban, slow-steaming of vessels in transit, operation of vessels at berth from shore power, replacing high-polluting engines in harbor craft and cargo-handling equipment, and a host of other pollution-reduction measures.
What seemed initially to be a stretch goal of reducing truck pollution by 80 percent through truck replacements was achieved largely by investments from motor carriers. “The true champions of the clean-trucks plan in terms of financing were the motor carriers themselves,” Cameron said. The private sector spent more than $700 million to purchase 11,000 new trucks.
Advancements in engine manufacturing and clean-fuel technology contributed to the success of the CAAP, and today every transportation mode has access to much cleaner equipment, Cannon noted. The ports’ strategy therefore involves expediting introduction of the newest models while providing incentives to develop even cleaner technology.
Initial reaction to the CAAP from outside of California was troublesome. Some ports said crazy California measures could start an unwanted national trend. Other ports marketed against Los Angeles and Long Beach by noting their clean-air efforts did not involve costly fees or mandates.
Other ports emphasize the voluntary nature of their programs. “California has done most of its air-quality programs with the stick. Houston tries to use the carrot,” said Dana Blume, that port’s environmental affairs manager.
Houston does not ban old trucks, but rather uses money from state and federal clean-air programs to incentivize truckers to replace older trucks with newer, cleaner ones. But realistically, Houston, which handles about 2 million 20-foot containers a year, generates less pollution than Los Angeles-Long Beach, which handles more than 14 million TEUs. And emissions from the many petrochemical plants in Houston dwarf port-generated pollution in the region.
New York-New Jersey’s contribution to regional pollution ranges from 1 percent to 2 percent of total emissions, said Bill Nurthen, general manager of port environmental and waterways development.
But Houston and New York-New Jersey are federal non-attainment areas, so both ports have taken the lead in reducing their contributions to regional pollution. New York-New Jersey’s initial strategy was to ban pre-1994 trucks, which are the worst offenders. All pre-2007 trucks will be banned by 2017.
The port encourages the use of low-sulfur fuel, modernization of cargo-handling equipment, shore-side power for cruise ships and gen-set switcher locomotives at intermodal facilities. The port offers incentives for vessels that voluntarily reduce their speed and burn low-sulfur fuel, Nurthen said.
Houston’s pollution inventory determined that vessels and trucks account for the most emissions, Blume said, so the port partnered with stakeholders in those industries to develop voluntary, cost-efficient measures that are proved to reduce pollution.
Slow-steaming is standard operating procedure as vessel operators navigate along the Houston Ship Channel, with its tight turns and congestion. Houston, like other ports, will benefit from implementation of the North American Emissions Control Area under the International Maritime Organization. Beginning in August, vessel operators must burn low-sulfur fuel within 200 miles of the coast.
Houston is just beginning to feel community pressures. The Air Alliance of Houston was established nine months ago to educate residents about health risks along the ship channel. The port authority, as a government agency, has taken on the role as facilitator, Blume said.
The Puget Sound ports of Seattle, Tacoma and Vancouver, British Columbia, are attacking pollution through a regional alliance. Because the ports didn’t face environmental lawsuits, they were free to concentrate on science-based measures that have proved effective, said Stephanie Jones Stebbins, director of seaport environmental and planning programs at the Port of Seattle. For example, Seattle encourages container ships at berth to burn low-sulfur fuel, but feels shore-side power works best for cruise ships.
About 50 percent of port emissions come from vessels and 25 percent from cargo-handling equipment, but only 9 percent come from locomotives and 3 percent from trucks. Seattle gets its desired pollution reductions from trucks through financial incentives that will result in the phased purchase of 2007-model trucks.
Most cargo-handling equipment and rail programs are voluntary, but effective, such as BNSF’s installation of electric cranes at its near-dock railyard, Jones-Stebbins said.
Port authorities find it easiest to get carrier buy-in when shippers require their supply chain vendors to become greener, but a retailer’s policy can vary from region to region. Retailers push their vendors hardest in California because, presumably, the local and political pressure there is the strongest. Most retailers in the Pacific Northwest subscribe to the green growth attitude that prevails there. Houston, however, admits its job would be easier if shippers there pushed their vendors to concentrate on pollution reduction.
The operating ports in the Southeast own the cranes and other cargo-handling equipment they use, and they have chosen to replace old diesel models with electric or alternative-fuel equipment. Also, ports such as Charleston, S.C., and Savannah, Ga., are in federal attainment areas so they believe it’s unnecessary to pressure carriers and terminals through mandatory programs.
Still, Charleston in 2007 met with regulatory agencies and carriers to map out a strategy of voluntary measures, such as the use of ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel. Results are being achieved several years ahead of federally mandated timelines, said Allison Skipper, manager of public relations.
Charleston last year launched the first truck replacement program in the region, using grant money as incentive for truckers to replace their pre-1994 trucks with newer models. Truck pollution will decline 60 percent when all pre-1994 trucks are eliminated.
Savannah executives and their board determined five years ago they could significantly reduce pollution by concentrating on the many assets they control, Executive Director Curtis Foltz said.
Savannah’s 23 container cranes are now electric, and all 44 of its racks for storing refrigerated containers were converted from diesel to electrical power. As a result, diesel consumption per-container handled has declined 54 percent, and the port has consumed 4 million fewer gallons of diesel than it would have if it had not replaced the old diesel equipment, Foltz said.