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Tina Casey headshot

Emissions Plunge at Port of Los Angeles

The Port of Los Angeles has achieved a significant reduction in airborne pollutants over the past several years, in a clear demonstration that a well-planned, diverse and persistent approach to sustainability pays big dividends without necessarily putting a crimp on the bottom line. Activity at the Port picked up soon after the 2008 crash, and while the global economy is still spinning its wheels, the Port achieved at least two record-breaking months last year for shipping container volume. It is close to meeting its pre-crash annual high and has already exceeded 2005 levels by about eight percent.

The raw numbers for air pollution cuts at the facility itself are impressive on their own. Equally important is the fact that the Port is also contributing significantly less pollution to the surrounding region, which underscores how the right combination of regulation, technology and incentive can help create healthier living conditions even in areas dominated by vast, sprawling infrastructure and high-traffic facilities.

A wide-ranging emissions reduction program

The Port launched a concerted air pollution cleanup program in 2006 an under the Bush Administration, and that effort has expanded under the Obama Administration's Clean Ports initiative. Overall, the Port achieved an "unprecedented" 79 percent drop in diesel particulate matter (DPM) from the baseline year of 2005 to 2012.

The Port's newly released Air Emissions Inventory for 2012 shows that the results on a per-container basis, in which cargo volume fluctuations are accounted for, are even a little more impressive. DPM emissions related to moving a benchmark of 10,000 containers were 81 percent lower in 2012 than in 2005.

That puts the Port ahead of its 2014 goal for DPM. Additional accomplishments include a drop of 56 percent in nitrogen oxide emissions, which also exceeds the 2014 goal, and an 88 percent drop for sulfur oxide emissions which comes close to meeting the 2014 goal of 93 percent.

To achieve the reductions, the Port looked at all aspects of its operations including cargo ships and other craft, trucks, trains, and cargo transfer equipment.

That includes several new initiatives that either began in 2012 or had their first full year of implementation within a phase-in period. Among these were newly expanded regulations for low sulfur fuel in California and the Port’s new Clean Truck Program prohibiting pre-2007 engines, along with new state rules for cleaner cargo equipment and harbor craft.

Last year, the Port also initiated incentives for shippers to schedule it for their cleanest-running vessels, under the Environmental Ship Index. Early adopters included industry giants Evergreen, Hamburg Süd North America, Inc, Hapag-Lloyd, Nippon Yusen Kaisha, Yang Ming and Maersk. In particular, Maersk has proved itself an industry leader in sustainable shipping with innovative green vessel design and an algae biofuel project in partnership with the U.S. Navy.

Also last year, new environmental rules adopted by the International Maritime Organization took effect, which extend low sulfur fuel requirements extended to waters within 200 miles of North America.

Other initiatives include private sector partners such as Siemens, which is demonstrating low-emission cargo transfer technology at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

What's Good for the Port of Los Angeles...

That brings us to the impact of facility-specific sustainability measures on regional environmental health.

As recently as 2005, the Port accounted for 25 percent of all sulfur dioxide emissions in the South Coast Air Basin, which includes 14.6 million residents in parts of Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside counties, along with all of Orange County.

By last year, that figure was down to six percent. While many other factors are involved, keep in mind that shipping traffic at the Port was significantly higher in 2012 than in 2005. Last year, the total was 8.1 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs, a standard shipping measurement), compared to just 7.5 million in 2005.

The Basin-wide gains for other Port-originated pollutants are not nearly as dramatic in terms of raw numbers, but when you consider other regional factors such as tighter emission controls on power plants and street vehicles, the results are still impressive. The Port's DPM emissions contributed ten percent to the Basin in 2005 and stood at only four percent last year, and its nitrogen oxide contribution fell from five percent to three percent in the same period.

Two Steps Forward...

While the Port of Los Angeles is among those making progress, it's important to note that other communities are facing new pressure to host fossil fuel cargo operations as the U.S. export market for coal, oil and natural gas expands. New and expanded West Coast coal port facilities are becoming a particularly urgent issue.

In the eastern U.S., proposed expansion of natural gas infrastructure in the heart of New York State's wine country demonstrates how export pressures at coastal facilities can ripple inland to affect other communities as well.

(Note: portions of the Port's Clean Truck program were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this summer, but key provisions remain).

[Image: Courtesy of the Port of Los Angeles]

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Tina Casey headshotTina Casey

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.

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