LA-LB clean-air rules set to become US port industry norm

LA-LB clean-air rules set to become US port industry norm

A Congressional bill introduced this week to enact federal regulations on port emissions highlights the political salience of the issue. Photo credit: Shutterstock

The new zero and near-zero emission guidelines the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach approved Nov. 2 for container terminal operators and harbor truckers in Southern California will be by far the strictest for any US port, and if past is precedent, other ports will adopt similar guidelines to meet their environmental goals.

The good news for port users is that despite dire predictions by some industry sources that these guidelines will result in inflated costs and lead to cargo diversion, equipment manufacturers are already testing some of these zero-emission units. If successful, the equipment will be mass-produced, much like what is occurring today with electric and battery-powered automobiles.

If zero or near-emission yard tractors, top handlers, rubber-tired gantry cranes and drayage trucks are manufactured in commercial quantities, the cost of port-related equipment is expected to drop considerably. Furthermore, plug-in electric and battery-powered vehicles experience much lower operating and maintenance costs than diesel-powered units. This means that terminal operators and drayage companies at many US ports may opt for this technology as their first choice.

The 2017 Clean Air Action Plan that the ports adopted this week is an environmental document that will guide investment decisions by terminal operators and motor carriers in Southern California for the next 20 years. The ports state that this third version of the 2006 CAAP could come at a cost of $14 billion to ports and their stakeholders by 2035.

Rick Cameron, managing director of planning and environmental at the Port of Long Beach, cautioned that before assuming that they will be burdened by unreasonable costs for replacing equipment, terminal operators and drayage companies must first understand that the Clean Air Action Plan that was released on Oct. 23 will not force specific technologies on the industry, nor will it enforce rigid deadlines based on yet-to-be developed technologies.

Rather, the timelines for achieving zero and near-zero emissions from cargo-handling equipment by 2030 and trucks by 2035 are not requirements. Rather, they are target dates the ports hope to achieve by working with government regulatory agencies, motor carriers, terminal operators and equipment manufacturers for developing, testing, and implementing the latest pollution-reduction technologies.

“These are not mandatory deadlines. They are goals,” Cameron said Friday. The ports will work with terminal operators, truckers, and equipment manufacturers to encourage use of the best-available technologies that will reduce pollution without imposing onerous costs on port tenants and their BCO customers. Where available, the ports will advocate for federal and state agency grants to help mitigate the cost of new, cleaner equipment. Some technologies, such as plug-in electric or battery-powered cargo-handling equipment or short-haul trucks, are either available today, or are in various stages of testing and could be massed produced within the coming decade, the CAAP states.

As port users replace equipment, the ports will seek to encourage use of only the latest technologies. “The technologies need to be commercially available and cost-effective,” Cameron said. If terminal operators and drayage companies comply with the CAAP guidelines when they replace their equipment with units that are in compliance, they will be allowed to continue operating that cargo-handling equipment until its useful life is over, even if zero-emission technology becomes commercially available in the interim, he said.

Most container ports today have green programs that are geared largely to the particular needs in their region, be it clean water or clean air. Most ports encourage the use of cleaner trucks, either through their own clean-truck programs such as exist in Seattle-Tacoma and Oakland, or through an industry organization known as the Coalition for Responsible Transportation.

Although the joint Los Angeles-Long Beach CAAP was implemented in 2006 and updated in 2012, this latest version, dubbed CAAP 3.0, has terminal operators and drayage companies more concerned than they were by the previous roll-outs because all of the easy gains have been achieved, and future reductions in health-risk emissions and greenhouse gases will come at a large cost for what the industry views as incremental gains.

That point was emphasized by John McLaurin, president of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, in an Oct. 18 address to the Propeller Club of Southern California. Citing pollution reductions in the mid-90-percent range for some pollutants since the first CAAP was implemented, McLaurin said, “According to the ports’ own data, these reductions have been achieved at a cost of between $1 billion and $2 billion. Under the proposed CAAP, the final four percent will cost over $14 billion.”

To be specific, the final CAAP 3.0 document that was released on Oct. 23 cites the following pollution reductions since 2006: diesel particulate matter, down 87 percent; nitrogen oxide, down 56 percent; sulfur oxide, down 99 percent; and greenhouse gases, which have only been seriously addressed in the last few years, down 18 percent. The ports are not shy about citing these accomplishments. “The CAAP remains the most successful seaport emission-reduction effort ever implemented,” the report stated. The ports also stated that the gains were realized through the effort of port tenants, carriers, regulatory agencies, and the ports themselves.

While the current CAAP focuses largely on cargo-handling equipment and trucks, the effort the past decade has also produced significant reductions in emissions from ocean vessels, harbor craft, and intermodal trains. Future pollution reductions from vessels will come largely from an International Maritime Organization requirement for low-sulfur fuel that will take effect globally in 2020. In other areas, harbor craft are being re-engined and are burning cleaner fuels. Locomotives in California are poised to use Tier 4 engines when they become commercially available.

The main focus of the CAAP 3.0 is on reducing pollution from cargo-handling equipment and harbor drayage trucks. Cargo-handling equipment at container terminals includes yard tractors, top handlers, side handlers, gantry cranes, reach stackers, and forklifts. In Los Angeles-Long Beach, that equipment totals 3,760 units. While terminal operators say zero and near-zero technology has a long way to go in their sector, the CAAP argues that in fact technology in cargo-handling equipment is more advanced than vehicles and equipment used in other areas of the port.

For example, electric (zero-emission) ship-to-shore cranes are common now in many ports. The large rubber-tired gantry cranes that lift containers into and out of the stacks are also becoming more common. The Georgia Ports Authority continues to enter into its fleet RTGs that run mostly on electricity, with only 5 percent of the energy consumed coming from diesel. The GPA stated in November 2016 that 45 of its 146 RTGs have been converted, and by 26 it will have 170 RTGs, all of which will operate primarily from electric power. At full build-out, the Port of Savannah will realize annual savings of $11 million owing to lower fuel and maintenance costs, the GPA stated.

APM Terminals announced in March 2011 that it was embarking upon a program to convert and retrofit more than 400 RTGs in its global operations to operate on a combination of diesel-electric power. APMT said this will result in a 60-80 percent reduction in carbon dioxide (greenhouse gas) emissions.

Mark Sisson, senior port planner at AECOM, said the same scenario is developing in the area of yard tractors, where technology is developing rapidly and zero-emission yard tractors would be commercially available well in advance of the 2030 timeline in the CAAP. In a paper he authored for Port Technology International, Sisson said that because of steadily decreasing costs for batteries, and the eventual commercial production of battery-powered yard tractors, terminal operators will end up paying a premium of about $50,000 per electric yard tractor compared with a typical $125,000 diesel-powered unit.

When the cost of installing the charging infrastructure is added, and the lower maintenance costs and fuel savings inherent in electric-powered vehicles are deducted, many terminal operators will choose to purchase electric-powered tractors, whether or not they are required to do so, because they will experience a net decrease in costs over the life of the equipment, Sisson said. For example, port equipment manufacturer Kalmar has stated that electric top picks may also be available in the near future. Sisson said he believes that the ports’ estimate of $14 billion in costs associated with the CAAP is much too high given the rapid advances being made in battery technology and related areas.

Battery technology for automobiles is quickly becoming a passion for manufacturers such as Tesla, Volvo, Ford, and General Motors. The Southern California ports are working with manufacturers to test zero-emission trucks in the rigorous drayage environment. According to the CAAP, there will be 70 zero-emission trucks operating in the port region by the end of 2019.

Nevertheless, drayage companies continue to be scared by the 2035 target date in the CAAP for 100 percent zero emission drayage trucks. Cameron said that as with cargo-handling equipment, the date is a guideline, and even if zero-emission trucks become commercially available before then, drayage companies that meet phased-in guidelines in the CAAP that will take effect over the next 10 years will be allowed to continue operating those trucks for the rest of their useful lives.

The original clean-truck program in the CAAP demonstrated just how quickly a fleet can be replaced with the proper incentives and financial support from the ports and regulatory agencies. The phase-out deadlines in the clean-truck program began in 2008, and by 2010 about 90 percent of the 17,000-truck fleet in Los Angeles-Long Beach was compliant in operating 2007 or newer model vehicles. By Jan. 1, 2012, the entire fleet was compliant.

The Los Angeles-Long Beach clean-truck program has been emulated to various degrees by the Northwest Seaport Alliance of Seattle and Tacoma, Oakland, and New York-New Jersey. The Coalition for Responsible Transportation has taken the clean-truck initiative nationwide, with ports, motor carriers, and BCOs coming together voluntarily to phase out old, dirty trucks from harbor service.

Cameron said Los Angeles and Long Beach have shared their best practices with other ports that have requested a dialogue in pollution-reduction methods that are of particular interest in their region. He said he expects that as advances are made in zero-emission cargo-handling equipment, other ports will turn to Los Angeles and Long Beach for advice on best practices.

Contact Bill Mongelluzzo at and follow him on Twitter: @billmongelluzzo.