COMMENTARY: Laying Down the Port Law

The Port of Long Beach Sets Ambitious—and Strict—Green Standards (2nd in a 2-Part Series)

On Saturday, October 4, the Port of Long Beach is letting visitors and local families in on all its green efforts, with its Green Port Fest. From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., the seaport is giving away bus passes (to support public transportation) and offering free harbor cruises (it has 35 miles of waterfront) and letting visitors get an insider’s look at the cargo shipping operations via a train ride. What’s so impressive about Long Beach’s Port? It’s environmental commitment is setting the bar for ports across the globe.

Starting October 1, no trucks built before 1989 will be allowed to drive onto the Port of Long Beach"s terminals.© Photos, Port of Long Beach

In 2005, the Port of Long Beach (POLB) adopted its Green Port Policy, which establishes guiding principles for the Port that puts the environment first. "We made the Green Port Policy the center of our operations," says Bob Kanter, the Manager of Environmental Affairs and Planning, who adds that environmental surveys are the first step in any infrastructure updates at the port. "The Green Port Policy makes [sustainability and environmental concerns] integrated and accountable."

One of their boldest new policies is the Clean Air Action Plan (CAAP), which was adopted in 2006 by the POLB and the Port of Los Angeles (POLA) in conjunction with local, state, and federal agencies in an effort to reduce the area’s air pollution by 45% by 2012. As part of the CAAP, they are implementing a Clean Trucks Program, which will cost $2 billion and should reduce the area’s air pollution by 80% by 2012. Most of the $2 billion will be generated by a cargo fee and will go to retrofits and truck replacements.

No Old Trucks

Starting on October 1, 2008, no trucks built before 1989 will be allowed to drive onto the Port’s terminals. On January 1, 2012, this policy will get a lot stricter: only trucks that meet 2007 federal emission standards (which apply only to new trucks) will be allowed to drive in the Port. This has "never been done in the world before," says Art Wong, the Port’s Public Information Officer. He realizes that incredible challenges will come with having "17,000 trucks replaced in 5 years and [having to] still keep goods moving and make sure people [like drivers] can make a living." Mario Cordero, President of the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners, has said that, "This is the most ambitious, far-reaching clean-air plan ever undertaken by any seaport."

How can they do this? Well, the truckers are coming onto their property. "We don’t have authority to tell ships or trucks that they have to be clean, but it’s our property, and we have the right to determine the safety of trucks," says Art Wong. Adds Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster, this is in line with the "proprietary standard," in which "you can regulate who comes on your property." A 2007 article in the LA Times, "Opposition Grows to Ports" Clean Air Plan," discusses the trucking companies that are against the ports" Clean Trucks Program and who claim that the ports are overstepping their bounds. Within the article, an expert asserts that, "The ports are trying to fill the vacuum that has been left by [the government"s] lack of action."

Natural Gas Trucking

From diesel-electric cranes to a hybrid tugboat, the Port is experimenting with ways to cut emissions.

Not all the trucking companies are upset. Brian Griley, President of Southern Counties Express, says that his trucking company’s work is 70% Port-related. He saw the Clean Trucks Program as a business opportunity, and has now built what he calls a "Green Fleet" of 50 Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) trucks. LNG trucks fit into the Clean Trucks Program’s guidelines because they emit at least 50% less nitrogen oxide, 80% less particulate matter, 100% less sulfur dioxide and 20% fewer greenhouse gases than similar heavy-duty diesel trucks. Griley has now set up on-site fueling and maintenance stations, run by LNG provider Clean Energy and engine manufacturer Westport Innovations, respectively.

With some previous LNG trucks, Griley was skeptical, because they did not have enough horsepower, torque, range, or mileage for heavy-duty drayage (short-haul, or local, trucking). But then he saw that Westport was using diesel engines with LNG fuel, which were "perfect for this application," except that their 325-350 mile range means they have to be refueled every day. "Fuel cost [of LNG] today is significantly less" than diesel, and "will always be cheaper than diesel," says Griley.

There is a risk in spending so much money and effort on LNG, especially since, according to the Clean Truck Program’s rules, Griley must scrap an old truck for every new one they get funding on. Even though he has a grant, he has to pay income taxes on the grant money and ends up paying about $60,000 per truck. He is "hoping that it pans out. It is a gamble, but I feel confident enough that there’s been enough legwork done." The company has been using one LNG truck for two years already, and sees that it is up to par with their other trucks. "My drivers love this truck," he says. The "best success story" is that "one company driver’s wife can tell what truck he was driving that day based on the smell of his clothes," since the LNG truck, unlike diesel, leaves no smell. In general, "people are liking the alternative fuel," he says. "It’s the cool/right thing to do."

More Environmental Steps

With its extensive initiatives, the Port of Long Beach has been recognized as an environmental leader in the industry.

Environmental activities at the Port also include improving cargo-handling equipment, expanding on-dock rail systems (which eliminate the need for trucks), reducing traffic congestion, protecting wildlife, and experimenting with new technologies. These actions are based on 7 main areas: air, water, wildlife, soil/sediment, sustainability, community engagement, and traffic/efficiency, as part of the Green Port Policy. Only some of the Port’s steps are detailed below.

Long Beach Container Terminal, Inc. (LBCTI), one of the companies leasing space from the Port, has been using diesel oxidation catalysts and low-sulfur diesel fuel in its yard tractors, vehicles that move containerized cargo within the terminal. Now its yard tractors, like some used in other terminals, are equipped with Tier 3 (the strictest emissions standard used now) engines. LBCTI is also among the terminals using some electric cranes to unload cargo from ships. It is also trying out a diesel-electric hybrid crane that reduces emissions by 70-80%, and is testing some LNG and hybrid yard hostlers, or tractors. The Port has also helped fund a hybrid tugboat. Since tugboats idle about 75% of the time, and hybrid tugboats can use diesel when they need power but can rely on electricity the rest of the time, that means emissions can be reduced by 75%. Says Kanter: "projects like that are so exciting."

Experiments with ships" emissions, at least until every ship and terminal is equipped for shore-side electricity, include placing a bonnet with an air scrubber on top of a ship’s smokestack, which reduces emissions by 90% and is known as a "Sock on a Stack."

The Port also began a program known as OffPeak, which keeps gates for trucks open on Saturdays and for more hours during the week, and charges trucks that come to transport goods during the day. Now, about 30-40% of the cargo is transferred at night, which lightens the traffic caused by freight transport on highways.

To protect wildlife, the Port uses mitigation credits, and has put "millions of dollars into wetland restoration," says Wong. They also monitor their waters for chemicals and pollution, most of which comes from upstream. Part of their property is known as a brownfield, or a site that was tainted by industrial use, so they have had to sequester soils that were contaminated years ago, before the land belonged to them. Many people involved with the Port feel strongly against forcing people in other regions or future generations to deal with their problems.

Jobs in Cleaner Trucks

According to Bob Foster, the "let somebody else pay for it" attitude is "horrible public policy." Gail Schwandner, the Dean of Workforce Development at Long Beach City College (LBCC), who has entered into a partnership with the Port, agrees: "We cannot just ship our pollution someplace else. Nobody else is going to want it or stand for it." Schwandner is aware of the other activities going on at the Port, such as the "Sock on a Stack" concept and clean-diesel trains. "Trucks are only one piece of the picture," she says.

Schwandner, however, who is always searching for high-tech jobs that will give someone with a two-year degree a good income and benefits, particularly supports the Port’s Clean Trucks Program. When she heard about the CAAP’s timeline for the Clean Truck program, she took advantage of the opportunity. About 50% of the trucks will be clean diesel and about 50% will use Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) and LNG. With the time limit (October 1, 2008) in mind, she wrote a grant to the state to start an LNG training program at the college. "If LNG is going to be brand new, we should be training people in LNG because there will be a huge gap in jobs," she says. The college has partnered with Kenworth, which builds trucks, and Westport, which produces engines, on this project. The partners see the "critical need" and are having their incumbent workers trained by the college. The college also developed a program with a local high school, Cabrillo High School, which makes it easier for them to receive an Advanced Transportation and Alternative Fuels certificate.

Renee Moilanen, of the Port’s Communications Division, believes that LBCC’s program is "so critical because come October 1, we are fundamentally changing" the truck, engine, and fuel market in Southern California. "To the extent that we can minimize the disruption of industry here, that’s huge for us. The Port created the market and is moving the market," which is both "exciting and scary," she says. "If it hadn’t been for the CAAP/ Green Trucks program
" Schwandner reflects. "I can’t train young people for jobs that I hope are going to be out there. You cannot train people for jobs that don’t exist." Schwandner notes that this "ability to mobilize a workforce is extremely unique. Every other port city in the country (and probably the world) is looking at this."

A Higher Bar for Ports

Kanter asserts that, "We have set the standard in a lot of areas. The CAAP is a worldwide standard. Other ports are unhappy because we are setting the bar pretty high." The Port hopes to be a leader and "a model for other ports," says Wong, mostly because change needs to happen soon. "Port communities around the world are recognizing that [the goods movement industry] poses serious health risks and something has to be done about it," he says.

Foster and other Port leaders have recently taken trips to ports in Asia and Europe in order to exchange information and engage in environmental partnerships. Another "part of that was to tell our customers that we’re serious about this [environmental protection]; this is not a fad, it’s a way of life," says Foster. He adds that, "all over the world, if international trade is going to survive and thrive," all ports will "have to be much more efficient and cleaner."

Making the Right Demands

Consumers need to become more aware of how their demand for products has far-reaching environmental consequences. It would be ideal if stores started publishing where their goods come from, so consumers could make more informed purchases, but right now they have no obligation to do so. Companies can get away with a lot that way. Brian Griley says, "You’d be shocked if I told you the companies" that turned his Green Fleet down because it costs more money and yet are portraying themselves as green.

Steinke also wishes that someday we’d know more about where products come from. "The approach we’d love to get to is a label that reads, ""Brought to you by the Port of Long Beach,"" he says. "But the consumer doesn’t reach that far back and doesn’t care." There could be serious trouble if we don’t start caring, though.

According to that Green Car Congress report, the International Maritime Organization (the regulating body with few environmental standards) estimates that ships" emissions could increase 72% by 2020 if no one makes changes. Luckily, the Port of Long Beach is trying to help build a network of seaports committed to making those changes. There is, however, one troublesome question on people’s minds: with trade growing at such a rapid rate, will we actually see any decrease in pollution?

CONTACTS: The Port of Long Beach; Long Beach Container Terminal; Southern Counties Express Green Fleet

MARA SCHECHTER was an editorial intern at E who attends Georgetown University.