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Ports of LA, Long Beach at clean-air crossroads as they update pollution battle plan

Monday, 17 July 2017 | 16:00

Can one of Southern California’s biggest sources of pollution turn itself into a model of green energy?

That’s what the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach aim to do this week when they release their much-anticipated update to the Clean Air Action Plan.

Decision-makers from this mammoth economic hub, where countless trucks, ships and trains produce a toxic stew of pollutants, will map out specifics on reducing the diesel-dependent port’s reliance on carbon fuels.

Nobody thinks it will be easy. Industry officials and truckers raise concerns about the price tag, while environmentalists push for more speed on the path to zero emissions.

Ratcheting up the expectations, self-proclaimed “climate mayors” Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles and Robert Garcia of Long Beach vowed near-zero emissions at the ports by 2035. How to get there? Investment in promising but expensive technology, including broader testing of clean big-rig trucks and cleaner-burning cargo handling equipment.

Here are the key questions as the countdown clicks away toward the cleaner-port plan’s release.

• What is CAAP, anyway?

Facing intense pressure from community and activists over pollution and exhaust spewing from trucks and ships, port officials adopted the clean-air plan in 2006.

• What was the goal?

Simply stated: Reduce pollution drastically.

• How?

Strategies included the arrival of some cleaner-burning trucks, new vessel pollution-reduction programs for ships, and advanced technology, such as the world’s first hybrid tugboat.

• Did it work?

Very well, at first. The effort cut diesel particulate matter by 85 percent.

• Then why issue an update?

The pace of the improvement has tapered off.

In some cases, environmentalist accuse the ports of backsliding.

A draft released last fall was heavily criticized by environmentalists for not setting ambitious enough goals.

The draft to be released Wednesday is the ports’ response.

• What’s the timetable for this plan?

The ports’ harbor commissions are expected to vote on the plan by fall.

• What are its main roadblocks?

1) Money. A zero-emissions port complex won’t come cheap.

Some say it could hurt shippers’ competitive edge.

One study from consulting firm Moffat & Nichol estimates it would cost $23 billion for the two ports and upstate peer-port Oakland to replace equipment with all zero- or near zero-emission technology.

2) Scope. It’s a huge job.

There are 16,000 big rigs that service the port, plus dozens of cranes, forklifts and other diesel-powered cargo-moving machines along the dock.

Also, emissions from dirty bunker fuel used by ships would need to be contained.

• Who’s going to pay for it?

It’s not clear.

Port officials must be ready to spend billions of dollars or find some generous funders.

Concerns have arisen in and out of the ports. Drivers fear the ports will pass the cost on to trucking companies who lease them their rigs, and those companies will expect them to foot the bill for pricey clean-burning rigs.

The trucking industry complains that it already spent more than $1 billion in the first wave of actions.

The lockstep-walking mayors have said they will work with all parties to find a solution, but haven’t offered specific funding strategies.

• Does all the tech exist to make these goals?

Not yet. But things are moving quickly,

While electric cars seem to get better every month, there isn’t yet a fleet of big rigs with the range to make continual short-haul trips from the port to distribution points all day long.

However, some cutting-edge technology is already in place. The $1.5 billion Middle Harbor project at Long Beach, an ambitious project featuring next-generation automated cargo-moving gear, will dramatically reduce pollution while it aims to improve efficiency.

• Are lawmakers on board?

Yes and no.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s passion for combatting climate changes helped motivate the ports to include greenhouse gasses in their list of targeted pollutions.

With Barack Obama in the White House, California could generally rely that the executive branch shared the state’s environmental goals. But with President Donald Trump at the helm, that’s no longer so certain.

But even in the state legislature, recent efforts have arisen that could create new hurdles. A plan approved by the legislature and signed by the governor earlier this year to hike gas taxes and vehicle fees — part of a drive to raise more than $5 billion a year to repair crumbling roads — included a concession for truckers.

Lawmakers agreed to block the state from requiring drivers from retrofitting or retiring a truck before it reaches 800,000 miles or 13 years on the road.

That could allow some big-rig owners to keep their trucks — and the resulting diesel emissions — on the road for 18 years.

Currently, the ports ban all trucks that did not meet 2007 emission requirements. In an early draft, the clean-air plan calls for a zero-emission port truck fleet by 2035 and a ban of all pre-2010 by 2020.

Also, trailers slapped onto two transportation-budget bills — Senate Bill 103 and Assembly Bill 118 — could prevent California from buying any automated cargo handling equipment that could potentially displace workers.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents dockworkers, decries any project that would result in fewer crane handlers and forklift drivers.

• Is this just about the port?

That’s a loaded question.

The port is the largest stationary emitter of pollution in the region, but the pollution certainly doesn’t stop at its gates.

Along the arteries of the 710, 60 and 10 Freeways, thousands of diesel-powered trucks daily pick up goods from across the world and ferry them to retailers and distribution centers. Along the way, they leave behind diesel particulate matter and other pollutants.

Nowhere in the country is smog worse than in the Southern California basin.

• Will cutting emissions improve health?

In the end, that’s what makes spending all that money worth it, proponents believe.

Clear-air activists fear a worsening ribbon of pollutants winding from the ports inland and back again.

The stew of exhaust produced by diesel-burning trucks and other gear drives up the rate of cancer, asthma and other respiratory problems for people living nearby.

Researchers estimate the pollution kills 2,149 people in Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside counties every year. Some have labeled the 710 freeway corridor from the port “the diesel death zone.”

Much of the smog generated in Los Angeles gets blown east and trapped by the mountains, leaving stagnant crud hovering over the Inland Empire.

A boom in distribution centers in the IE, fueled by the ports’ constant stream of goods from China and elsewhere in Asia, has multiplied truck traffic and the resulting emissions.

Scores of cleaner burning trucks run on hydrogen fuel, electricity or LNG trucks could ease that growth.
Source: Long Beach Press Telegram

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