Smart Ways

The Teamsters union and some environmental groups have been pushing for a federal solution to clean-trucks standards at the country’s ports for some time, and they finally got their way, although it wasn’t exactly the solution they were looking for.

That’s because the Environmental Protection Agency last week announced an important extension of its SmartWay Transport Partnership to include drayage trucking and included in the plan the Coalition for Responsible Transportation and the Environmental Defense Fund. Those groups bring under the SmartWay umbrella big shippers including Lowe’s, Target, Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Home Depot, Hewlett-Packard, J.C. Penney and Nike.

Those shippers will commit to using cleaner trucks to haul at least 75 percent of their port freight while trucking companies will agree to reduce particulate matter emissions 50 percent and nitrogen oxide emissions 25 percent below the industry averages over the next three years.

The effort is important because it directly engages the companies involved in providing services and buying those services, setting market incentives and allowing companies to maintain operations while improving environmental measures. And those air quality standards are what this is supposed to be about, right?

As Rick Gabrielson of Target put it in announcing the SmartWay Drayage Carrier program, “This partnership will generate private sector investment in clean technology, improve the environmental quality of our nation’s port communities and demonstrate the commitment we have made as the shipping industry’s leaders to emissions reductions.”

The Teamsters and other environmental groups, of course, have been looking for a different kind of federal solution by calling on Congress to create zones of trucking economic re-regulation around the country’s ports. They stepped up that effort in a big way last month, attacking Port of Seattle CEO Tay Yoshitani specifically for his opposition to a change in federal law that would bring organized labor into port trucking — as if that legislation has anything to do with environmental standards at ports.

But opposing economic regulation of trucking has never meant shrugging aside clean-air standards.

For the trucking industry generally, meeting EPA emissions standards has meant emissions of particulate matter from diesel engines have been reduced from 0.1 grams per braking horsepower per hour, or g/bhp-hr, in 1994 to 0.01 in 2007. Nitrogen oxide emissions have been cut from 6 g/bhp-hr in 1990 to 0.2 in 2007.

At the Port of Long Beach, Calif., 93 percent of the truck moves in the third week of April were by trucks with cleaner engines manufactured in 2007 or later and 98 percent were made in 2004 or later.

At the Port of Seattle, the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency’s measure of air quality showed port trucks contributed 1 percent of the four-county region’s particulate matter emissions in 2005, and tougher goals since then almost certainly reduced that share. All the trucks at the port are post-1994 vehicles, and 25 percent have met the 2015 target of operating only 2007 or later engines.

That’s a measure of success based entirely on what is in the air, and it’s a record participants in the shipping industry can and should build on.

Initiatives such as the EPA SmartWay program give businesses a clear, reliable way to do that.

Paul Page is editorial director of The Journal of Commerce. Contact him at ppage@joc.com. Follow Paul Page at www.twitter.com/paulpage.

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