With Growing Capacity, San Pedro Bay Ports Push For Cleaner Air And Water
By Sean Belk - Staff Writer
April 24, 2012 - It might not be the perfect marriage, but expansion and environmental initiatives go hand in hand at the San Pedro Bay ports, where keeping an eye on cargo containers is just as important as gauging pollution levels.
As the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles gear up to handle the biggest container ships in the world, they also hope to attract the greenest fleets, said Robert Kanter, managing director of environmental affairs and planning at the Port of Long Beach. “Large doesn’t always equate to cleanest,” he said.
The busiest port complex in the nation remains a key job generator for the local region, but it also has long been a leading source of diesel particulate emissions, smog, contaminated water runoff and other toxins. Studies indicate that environmental pollution caused by port-related operations impacts the health and livelihoods of residents, local workers and surrounding habitats.
In recent years, however, the ports have collaborated to take proactive steps toward groundbreaking initiatives that have become the benchmark for industry changes and best practices. The ports’ internationally recognized Clean Trucks Program, for example, recently phased out thousands of aging pre-2007-model drayage trucks as of January 1.
In the next decade, billions of dollars worth of capital improvements are expected to enable the ports to increase capacity, while also implementing cleaner and more sustainable vessels, terminals, cargo-handling equipment, trucks, trains and harbor craft.
Such efforts involve a broad-based partnership between international trade stakeholders, pushing for cleaner technologies, more efficient infrastructure and industry-wide regulation, Kanter said. As container terminal landlords, the ports continue to work with regulatory agencies, port operators, customers, engine manufacturers, government officials and the local community, he said.
Both ports initiated a Clean Air Action Plan almost six years ago that has since reduced overall diesel particulates and other emissions by more than 70 percent, with new targets to reduce health risks as well. But Kanter said furthering such green initiatives takes a willingness and investment from the industry to make such changes happen.
It’s also a balancing act for the local ports, challenged with bearing the burden of competitive costs that come with new standards, he said. The goal, Kanter said, is to work toward international treaties and measures to “level the playing field” and mandate environmental stewardship and sustainable operations worldwide.
“If we have certain air quality improvements that are only down here at the San Pedro Bay ports or the West Coast of California, that immediately puts us at a competitive disadvantage and cargo will go elsewhere,” he said. “We want to make sure everybody is playing by the same rules . . . I think there’s a need [for cleaner port operations] throughout the world . . . So, we’re not unique.”
Big Ships, Clean Ships
Larger container vessels calling on the local ports are considered a testament to the region’s maritime operations. But big ships with engines using dirty “bunker” fuel that emit greenhouse gas and diesel particulates, still pose a challenge for reducing air pollution off the coast.
The next project for the San Pedro Bay ports is to provide incentives to carriers that switch to low-sulfur diesel fuels, reduce speeds before entering the harbor and implement other green practices. “We’re in the process of doing our due diligence on how the industry would respond . . . But the idea would be to attract the newest, cleanest vessels to this port complex,” Kanter said.
The International Association of Ports and Harbors is currently working with ports to roll out incentive program strategies to participate in the Environmental Ship Index Program starting this year. The program is a Web-based ship-rating system that ports can use to promote clean ships by rewarding operators whose vessels exceed current state and federal environmental standards and regulations.
Chris Cannon, director of environmental management for the Port of Los Angeles, said the Los Angeles Harbor Commission is expected to vote on approving the port’s partnership with the program in coming months, with a commitment to invest at least $400,000 in credit incentives the first year. “The Environmental Ship Index program is something that we’re really excited about and we hope that it will result in even cleaner ship operations here in the port in coming years,” he said.
The ports are also installing shore-side electrical power at marine terminals for ships to plug directly into docks while at berth. The process, called “cold ironing,” allows vessels to turn off pollution-emitting, on-board generators while docked at the ports, sometimes for days at a time.
The efforts are in anticipation of California Air Resources Board regulations that mandate at least 50 percent of all calls to the ports plug into shore-side power by January 1, 2014. Officials at both ports said terminals should exceed the requirements before the deadline. “In most cases, ships will have several berths available to be able to plug in,” Cannon said.
The Port of Long Beach is also looking to test new vessel technologies for older ships that aren’t able to use cold ironing capabilities, such as using seawater to filter dirty engines and capping emissions from smoke stacks, Kanter said. He added that the port also has the country’s first hybrid-electric tug boats being used by Foss Maritime.
Under new terminal lease agreements, the ports are setting new standards for vessels and cargo-handling equipment as well, Kanter said. For instance, once the new Middle Harbor terminal at the Port of Long Beach is completed, vessels calling at the terminal will be required to slow down to 12 nautical miles per hour within 20 nautical miles of the coast, he said.
Additionally, both ports are committed to “sustainable design, construction and operation” at terminals, with new LEED-certified buildings and other energy-efficient measures for new developments. “You’re going to hear the term sustainability more and more in our port operations,” Kanter said. “What it means is that we’re keeping our natural resources for future generations.”
After enacting the final phase of the Clean Trucks Program this year, port officials said the San Pedro Bay ports are now moving ahead with goals to implement and test “zero emissions” technologies for trucks and cargo-handling equipment.
Such demonstrations involve testing vehicles and operations that run on pure electric, diesel-electric hybrid or fuel cell technologies. The first zero emissions heavy-duty drayage trucks, manufactured by Vision Motor Corporation, are currently being tested at both ports through the collaborative Technology Advancement Program.
While the ports have already reduced diesel particulate emissions from trucks by up to 90 percent through the Clean Trucks Program, Cannon said, “For reduction of other criteria pollutants and green house gases, we’re going to have to go further . . . Our goal is to begin to transition our drayage fleet to zero emission trucks over the course of the next decade.”
Greening The Railroads
Rail operations, although considered more efficient and cleaner than trucks, are another source of air pollution from the ports. Both ports continue to work with Pacific Harbor Line to deploy lower-emitting technologies and fuels within the line’s “switcher” locomotives that set up containers before being put on rail lines bound for the Midwest.
The ports are also encouraging major line haul railroads, including Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF) and Union Pacific, to transition to the cleanest locomotive engine technologies over the next decade. State air quality measures for line haul locomotives, however, are mostly voluntary since California regulatory agencies don’t have jurisdiction over interstate commerce.
“On a per-container basis, rail is still one of the cleanest ways to move goods, but the locomotives themselves put out a lot of pollution, and we want to get cleaner locomotives in the line haul,” Kanter said. Developing new on-dock rail facilities is another way for the ports to move cargo more efficiently, using trains instead of trucks to move cargo directly from ships to line hauls. Cannon said almost all terminals at the Port of Los Angeles currently have on-dock rail capabilities, with the exception of the TraPac terminal, which is in process of building facilities.
The port is also currently in the environmental review process of a $500 million near-dock facility to be called the Southern California International Gateway, or SCIG, proposed by BNSF on a 153-acre site, just four miles outside of the port complex.
He said the port’s environmental review should be completed sometime this year after which it will be presented to the harbor commission for approval. If approved, Cannon said the facility would be in operation in the next three to four years.
He said the port has long had an objective to promote the use of trains over trucks. “We hope to encourage continued growth and continued use of on-dock rail because it has greater efficiency to reduce emissions over trucks,” Cannon said. “It’s also better because it doesn’t clog the highways and reduces impacts on the local community.”
Water Quality Restoration
The ports also continue to implement best practices at terminals and other measures to improve water quality and prevent contaminants from entering the harbor. Last year, the California State Water Resources Control Board approved a water quality restoration strategy, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), setting new compliance for metals, DDT, PCB, PAHs and other pollutants in the Dominguez Channel and the waters of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
The strategy addresses more than 70 water quality impairments caused by high concentrations of pollutants found in water, sediments and fish. The TMDL focuses on toxic “hot spots,” where contaminants have built up in sediments over decades due to drains, rivers and channels flowing into the bay. Pollutants have typically come from sources upstream, such as industrial, manufacturing and the general public use of chemicals and toxins that have since been prohibited.
The ports are expected to conduct scientific studies to identify the contaminants and their impact on sea life habitats, while determining possible remediation measures.
At the Port of Los Angeles, the highest contaminated areas are located at a slip near the Dominguez Channel and Fish Harbor on Terminal Island, Cannon said. While the port’s best practices have kept surface waters relatively clean, he said the problem is contaminants that have collected in sediments over time, even before the port’s existence. “Our concern is the sediments that continue to affect fish and other wildlife,” he said.