The Southern California transportation industry considers the Clean Air Action Plan approved on Nov. 20 at an unprecedented joint meeting of the Los Angeles and Long Beach harbor commissions to be a disappointment, not because of what it requires, but because of what was left out.
Shipping lines, terminal operators, railroads and trucking companies contend that the port staff members who wrote the final plan disregarded the industry's suggestions for effectively reducing pollution while promoting growth at the nation's largest port complex.
In testimony at the harbor commission meeting and in letters to the executive directors of the respective ports, industry groups emphasized that they share the ports' overriding goal of promoting public health by reducing diesel emissions. However, industry groups say the aggressive goals contained in the clean-air plan may not be achievable with current technology, and some of the clean-air measures may violate federal law.
These problems could have been avoided if the final clean-air plan had taken into consideration the voluminous comments and concerns the industry provided in the public comment period that followed release of the draft plan in June, according to industry sources.
"I didn't see any major changes from the first draft," said John McLaurin, president of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, whose shipping line and terminal operator membership control about 90 percent of the containerized cargo handled at West Coast ports.
The California Trucking Association, in a Nov. 16 letter to the executive directors of the two ports, stated: "The process used to formulate heavy-duty truck control measures in the plan has not included stakeholders in any meaningful way."
The ports take exception to such statements, noting that they extended the public comment period for 30 days at the request of the maritime industry. Port staff said they carefully analyzed the comments from the private sector and set up special Web sites so the trade could file comments electronically.
Robert Kanter, director of planning and environmental affairs at the Port of Long Beach, said the drafters of the plan made changes where appropriate and practical, but they did not adopt all of the comments from the private sector. Similarly, the ports did not change the plan to reflect all of the views of environmental groups.
As far as the ports are concerned, the transportation sector wants to reduce pollution and will voluntarily take steps to do so, but when it comes to adopting the most difficult and costly measures, the private sector cannot be relied upon to voluntarily do all that is necessary. Although the PMSA cited a number of steps the industry has taken, such as reducing vessel speed and utilizing alternative fuels in cargo-handling equipment, most of those measures were launched with port money or achieved a high level of participation because of financial incentives from the ports, Kanter said.
"I am delighted that the industry has done these things, but it wouldn't have happened if the ports hadn't done the heavy lifting," Kanter said.
While the debate over public-private partnerships will continue, the ports have clearly stated their pollution-reduction goals. The ports intend to push forward with the clean-air plan as written. If the plan achieves its goal of reducing air pollution by 45 percent over the next five years, it is certain that a new way of doing business will quickly evolve at the Southern California port complex.
Shipping containers through Los Angeles-Long Beach will also be more expensive. Implementation of the Clean Air Action Plan will cost the public and private sectors an estimated $2.1 billion. The ports and the local air quality management district have pledged to contribute $200 million to the effort. The ports also hope to attract millions of dollars from a bond issue approved in November by California voters.
However, most of the money will come from the private sector. Carriers will have to equip vessels to operate from shoreside electrical power. Marine terminal operators will purchase low-emission cargo-handling equipment. Motor carriers will retrofit older trucks and purchase new vehicles. Railroads will have to use the cleanest locomotives available and may install post-combustion scrubbers and idling-shut off mechanisms.
Importers and exporters will foot much of the bill, either in higher freight rates or in "pollution-based impact fees," such as fines assessed against heavily polluting trucks that call at marine terminals. The ports intend to push those fees back to beneficial cargo owners if possible.
The most dramatic changes are planned for harbor trucking. Heavy-duty trucks are a major source of pollution at the ports and throughout the intermodal network. Eliminating "dirty" trucks - those from model year 1993 or older - will cost well over $1 billion. The ports estimate that 16,000 trucks call regularly at marine terminals.
Motor carriers by 2012 will have to use 2007 model trucks or retrofit 1994-model or younger trucks. Pre-1994 trucks cannot be retrofitted to meet the 2007 standards.
All things considered, the clean-air plan is a major gamble. If other U.S. ports don't follow, the high costs to serve California's ports will be magnified, and shippers and carriers could divert their services. That will become much easier in 2015 when the Panama Canal opens a third set of locks that will be able to accommodate 12,000-TEU vessels. The Pacific Northwest ports and development in Mexico are other options for shippers and carriers.
Meanwhile, the California Trucking Association warns that the ports may run afoul of federal interstate commerce law by establishing emissions standards as a requirement for calling in the harbor. "The plan proposes to regulate a segment of the trucking industry, specifically port service, by establishing entry requirements, in the form of emission standards. Trucks that move containers to or from the ports are involved in interstate commerce regardless of whether they actually leave the state," the trucking organization stated.
Kanter replied that the ports believe all of the measures in the clean-air plan are legal, but legal counsel will review the plan further.
Maritime interests question whether implementing the costly measures in the plan represent the best use of public and private-sector money. For example, the plan calls for equipping container terminals with the capacity to operate ships at berth from shoreside electrical power. This will cost millions of dollars in public money, and vessel operators will spend as much as $1 million per ship so the vessels can "cold iron" at berth.
The PMSA noted that similar pollution-reduction results are possible through less disruptive and less costly technologies. Maersk Line vessels already burn ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel in their main engines as they enter the harbor area and in auxiliary engines while at berth. Post-combustion technologies and devices that capture and scrub emissions are also available.
Shipping executives prefer the use of incentives to promote reductions in pollution. They note that most vessel operators now participate in a voluntary program to reduce vessel speed 20 miles from shore because of a Port of Long Beach program that cuts dockage fees for participants. The PMSA's McLaurin said incentives have proved to be the most effective and widespread way to reduce emissions, and incentives produce the quickest results.
Both ports have indicated that they intend to use incentives, pollution-based fees, tariff changes and the terminal-leasing process to force measures that will slash diesel emissions. The Clean Air Action Plan also encourages development of new technologies, and new measures will be adopted once they are proved to be effective.