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LA-LB ports move forward on major environmental plan

17 August 2017 IHS Markit Maritime & Trade Expert

This article by Bill Mongelluzzo originally published on

The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach Wednesday released an update of their landmark Clean Air Action Plan (CAAP), with full implementation of the plan's tighter emissions restrictions estimated to cost $7 billion to $14 billion over the next 18 years in order to reduce health-risks and greenhouse gas emissions from port operations.

While some of the costs in the draft update could ultimately be borne by beneficial cargo owners in the form of higher truck, rail, vessel, and cargo-handling costs, the ports also intend to seek public funding where available and to partner with port users on funding mechanisms.

Nevertheless, carriers and terminal operators represented by the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association urged a balance between further emissions reductions and commercial growth. "We have one shot to get this right. If we miss the opportunity to balance ongoing environmental progress with policies that increase throughput and ensure competitiveness, the region's economy, businesses, and residents will suffer and emission reductions that are so important to communities surrounding the ports may prove elusive," said PMSA President John McLaurin.

The ports intend to balance environmental policy with sound business practices so they can maintain their status as the largest port complex, handling almost 40 percent of US containerized imports and 25 percent of exports. "Based on what we've already accomplished to promote healthy, robust trade through our gateway, we're ready to make history again, looking at a new array of technologies and strategies to further lower port-related emissions in the decades ahead," said Gene Seroka, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles.

The draft update, sometimes called CAAP 3.0 because it will be the third version of the original 2006 plan, was expected to elicit passionate responses from the freight transportation community because it sets ambitious goals for further emissions reductions from vessels, cargo-handling equipment, and trucks. Based on the 2005 baseline year, the CAAP so far has resulted in an 85 percent reduction in diesel particulate matter, 50 percent reduction in nitrogen oxide, and 97 percent reduction in sulfur oxide emissions. These health-risk pollutants are known to contribute to upper respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and cancer. The original CAAP was approved after pushback by environmental and community groups as a prerequisite to allow further port expansion.

The 2017 update also addresses greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming and therefore have an impact far beyond the source location. The update sets as a goal the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

Starting almost immediately, the plan intends in 2018 to phase in newer, cleaner trucks of recent model years, and to work toward a harbor fleet of zero and near-zero emission trucks by 2035. The original clean-truck program associated with the CAAP replaced about 10,000 older, polluting trucks with 2008 and newer-model trucks through a combination of hundreds of millions of dollars in port subsidies and what truckers estimate was an investment of $1 billion by motor carriers.

The ports also intend to support a state regulatory goal to transition to zero-emission cargo-handling equipment by 2030. PMSA challenged that goal. "Assuming a $1.8 billion cost to replace existing terminal equipment with zero-emissions equipment, which does not exist today, is pie-in-the sky budgeting," PMSA stated in its release. PMSA cites a Moffatt & Nichol study it commissioned that if the marine terminals move to total automation, such as the Middle Harbor facility in Long Beach is doing, "tens of billions over 30 years plus billions in additional operating costs."

Developing zero-emission cargo-handling equipment without committing to the huge costs involved in a fully automated terminal is still a work in progress. The ports believe zero-emission horizontal ground transportation, yard cranes, and other such equipment is on the horizon, but PMSA believes that developing this alternative equipment in the timeline set by the ports is a "pretty big assumption with no margin for error." PMSA also says that the full automation of additional marine terminals such as the $1.3 billion Middle Harbor terminal is a stretch financially for many terminal operators and a fully automated terminal "causes political indigestion for both ports."

The CAAP update also seeks to further reduce vessel emissions through an update of the existing vessel speed-reduction program and by supporting new state-approved technologies that slash emissions from vessels at berth, but are more flexible than cold-ironing of vessels through the use of shoreside electrical power.

The ports also intend to reduce truck trips in the harbor through further development of on-dock rail, with a goal of having 50 percent of the inbound container volume leaving the ports to move on trains. Associated with that goal is continued research into a possible short-haul rail shuttle to the Inland Empire. The plan also proposes process improvements such as development of a universal truck appointment system for the port complex that would reduce truck turn times.

While the ports promote stretch goals for technology research that is under way but not yet proven operationally or commercially, PMSA cautions that terminal operators "don't have the luxury of CAAP's wait, see and hope approach." PMSA emphasized that "plans need to be developed, permits approved, financing arranged, and construction needs to occur to meet the plan's tight deadline, and all this needs to be accomplished while terminals continue to operate."



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