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Natural gas drivers to be exempt from Clean Truck fee at Port of Long Beach

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Low-emissions natural gas-powered trucks will be exempt from a per-container fee thanks to a 4-1 vote by the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners Monday.

The Clean Truck Fund Rate, a $10 fee per 20-foot equivalent unit—a standard unit of measure for shipping containers, many of which are 40 feet long—is part of the San Pedro Bay Ports’ efforts to reach their goals of zero emissions. The fee has not yet been implemented as a third-party vendor was only recently selected to develop the collection method.

“The Port of Long Beach is the Green Port, a trailblazer in sustainable goods movement,” Commission President Frank Colonna said in a statement. “We remain confident that we can encourage the use of cleaner natural gas trucks now, and also nurture the technology that will allow us to meet our goal of a zero-emissions drayage truck fleet by 2035.”

The fee is expected to generate $80 million per year, the announcement states.

Natural gas trucks emit lower levels of nitrogen oxides, which contribute to smog. The exemption will apply to trucks picking up or dropping off loaded containers at the ports that use natural gas engines meeting a 0.02 grams of nitrogen oxides per brake horsepower-hour standard, according to the announcement.

The vehicles must be purchased and registered with the port by Dec. 31, 2022.

Zero-emissions trucks, such as electric or hydrogen fuel-cell that are not widely available commercially, had already been exempt from the future rate. The decision to exempt certain natural gas vehicles is meant to be an interim step while zero-emissions technology catches up, according to the announcement.

When the fee was first approved in March of last year, critics claimed it was too low to curb emissions. Months later, the fee was met with criticism from drivers of natural gas trucks, who said they should be exempt.

“These trucks will emit 90% less nitrogen oxides than equivalent vehicles today,” Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero said in a statement. “The question we were asking ourselves was do we reduce emissions now or do we wait for tomorrow? For our community, and our commitment to the Clean Air Action Plan, the answer is now.”

The CAAP, a combined environmental effort by the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, was first adopted in 2006 and updated in 2017. The plan outlines ambitious goals to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 and 80% by 2050.

Phasing out older trucks is key to the plan, with the Clean Truck Program launching in 2008. Since then, diesel emissions from trucks have been reduced by as much as 97% compared to 2005 levels, based on port data. However, trucks remain the ports’ largest source of greenhouse gas emissions and the second highest source of nitrogen oxides.

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