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American ShipperIntermodal

Winds of change

EPA ramps up effort to improve air quality around nation’s seaports.

   The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which nine months ago placed greater strategic emphasis on improving air quality in and around ports, in April announced a new effort to recognize seaports for their green operations and $4.2 million in grants to support diesel-emission reduction programs at six ports.
   
Ports are considered hot zones for air pollution, ranging from particulate matter, greenhouse gases, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides and other byproducts of diesel combustion from port trucks, vessels, cargo-handling equipment and harbor craft. People living near ports tend to suffer more from respiratory ailments and premature deaths, according to researchers. Many ports have implemented clean air strategies to improve health for nearby residents, as well as workers.
   
A recent study in the American Journal of Public Health showed that almost 41 million people living near ports have the potential to be exposed to elevated levels of air pollution and that population is over-represented by minorities and low-income residents.
   
EPA officials say they want to work with industry stakeholders and local communities to sustain economic growth generated by ports while protecting communities from the health impacts of diesel engines used to power industrial equipment and conveyances.
   
“Ports are the main gateway for U.S. trade and are critical to our country’s economic growth, yet the communities surrounding ports face serious environmental challenges,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a statement. “Today, we demonstrate that through collaboration and innovation, we can achieve the goals of economic growth and environmental stewardship.”
   
The EPA is embarking on the creation of a Port Recognition Program, with outside input, to develop performance metrics for different parts of port operations and incentivize port authorities to engage in best practices for reducing air pollution through public recognition and other means, Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe said at a Port Stakeholders Summit in Baltimore. The effort will expand at some point to other areas of environmental management, such as water quality and waste disposal, he added.
   
One of the EPA’s new priorities is reducing emissions in areas with high exposure to particulate matter, such as ports and freight hubs. Freight transportation accounts for a quarter of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions and is expected to exceed passenger vehicle emissions within the next couple decades as cargo volumes grow and stricter passenger vehicle fuel economy standards are implemented, according to the agency. 
   
Previously, the EPA has worked on reducing harmful emissions and greenhouse gases at ports through the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) grants program and the SmartWay Transport program. Technologies funded through DERA include emissions and idle-control technologies, aerodynamic equipment, engine and vehicle replacements and alternative fuel options. SmartWay is a voluntary initiative to leverage market-based mechanisms for collecting data and helping the freight sector become more efficient. It is a mode-based program that began with the trucking industry and now covers railroads and barge operators, too. Carriers measure and report their transportation-related emissions, and agree to use innovative technologies and processes to improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions of pollutants. Shippers in the program measure the emissions footprint across their supply chain by adding up figures from their carrier partners, as well as any in-house fleet, and commit to book a certain percentage of their freight with SmartWay carriers.
   
EPA officials say they plan to expand SmartWay to the marine and air cargo sectors in the next year or so.

Source: Environmental Defense Fund.

   
The new initiative borrows from SmartWay, but attempts to holistically deal with the ports as complex clusters of activity in a certain location whereas SmartWay deals with sustainable operations along a route. The largest emitters of emissions in ports typically are ocean-going vessels. 
   
The EPA suggests port authorities and terminal operators can promote sustainable practices in multiple ways, including establishing anti-idling policies for trucks, locomotives and cargo-handling equipment; expanding off-peak hours to reduce congestion; developing education programs for customers and vendors to implement emissions-reduction strategies; and substituting electric for diesel power.
   
The Environmental Defense Fund also has been working with ports, including in Latin America, to identify best environmental management practices and encourage their adoption. It collaborated with the EPA and Coalition for Responsible Transportation in 2011 to expand the EPA’s SmartWay program to trucks that operate at U.S. ports and assist them with fuel-saving strategies. Together, they developed SmartWay Port Drayage, a national certification program and rating system for clean-burning container-shuttle trucks. Shipper participants pledge to move at least 75 percent of their freight on trucks that meet the performance requirements outlined in the program.
   
The EDF recently awarded a contract to the International Council on Clean Transportation to develop recommendations for a toolkit of best practices that can be shared and how to recognize top port performers in environmental sustainability.
   
The EPA program is the first directed entirely at ports. A couple of existing programs exist to reward the maritime sector at large, including vessel operators, for their environmental sustainability practices. The International Association of Ports and Harbors three years ago created an incentive program that rewards vessels with lower port fees for exceeding international standards for reducing vessel emissions through engine, fuel and technology enhancements. Participating ports use a scorecard to compare a vessel’s performance against an industry baseline. Only two U.S. ports — Los Angeles and New York/New Jersey — have adopted the Environmental Ship Index (ESI).
   
The Port of New York and New Jersey, for example, has offered a Green Ship Incentive Program since January 2013 that provides financial benefits to clean ships based on their ESI score. Ships with a score between 20 and 29 points receive $1,500 per visit, while those with a score above 30 receive a $2,500 payment. Ships participating in the voluntary vessel speed-reduction program receive an additional five points towards their score, and vessels that have Tier 2 or Tier 3 engines get an additional $1,000 or $2,000, respectively, William Nurthen, general manager for environmental and waterways development programs, said.
   
Other clean-air efforts include an incentive to help defray vessel costs for using low-sulfur fuel; installation of shore-side electric power for cruise ships; providing a 20 percent subsidy to help terminal operators replace older cargo-handling equipment; using state, federal and port authority money to replace diesel engines with ultra-low emission generator sets on five Express Rail intermodal switching trains operated by Conrail; and providing grants and loans for the replacement of 429 older drayage trucks as the port moves toward a 2017 ban on all trucks with engines made prior to 2007.
   
A potential model for the EPA is Green Marine, a voluntary program covering the maritime sector in the United States and Canada, including domestic and international shipowners, ports and terminals, stevedoring companies and the St. Lawrence Seaway. Participants that have fulfilled the program’s requirements in various environmental categories receive a Green Marine seal of approval, which they can use to publicly demonstrate their commitment to continuous improvement in environmental performance. Most participants, so far, are located in Canada or the Great Lakes region.
   
Meanwhile, six port authorities split $4.2 million in new DERA grants to retrofit, replace or repower diesel engines. It is the first time that DERA awards have been dedicated to ports. A request for proposals was issued in December. Applicants for the competitive grants were selected based on having projects that maximized public health benefits in areas with poor air quality, involved multiple partners and positively impacted local communities, Chris Grundler, director of EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality, said at a ceremony in Baltimore.
   
Several grants are aimed at helping independent owner-operators transition to clean diesel equipment (modern engine designs and exhaust after treatment), which is much more expensive than older used trucks that small businesses typically purchase to make ends meet.
   
Trucks made in 1994 or before emit about 60-times more particulate matter than 2007 EPA-compliant engines, which burn ultra-low sulfur fuel and have diesel particulate filters or other emissions technology. Older trucks also produce much more carbon and other harmful compounds.
   
Congress authorized the DERA program for supporting clean diesel projects in 2005, but did not start funding the program until 2008. DERA appropriations have declined from a high of $60 million in fiscal years 2009 and 2010, to $50 million in fiscal year 2011, $29.9 million in fiscal year 2012 and $19.9 million in fiscal year 2013. This year, the program received $20 million, but President Obama’s fiscal year 2015 budget proposal eliminates all funding. Government affairs specialists expect Congress to fund DERA when it passes an EPA appropriation bill, because the program is popular with certain lawmakers, as well as industry and environmental groups.

   
Thirty percent of DERA funding is earmarked for states to support clean diesel programs of their own. The EPA last year awarded $9 million to states and provided about $2 million for certain rebates, but held back more than $4 million while it considered a specific sector to target for additional help.
   
Grant recipients were:

  • Maryland Port Administration — $750,000 to provide incentives for truckers to replace 22 pre-1997 model year drayage trucks serving the Port of Baltimore with ones powered by 2010 or newer engines. Truckers are pitching in at least half the cost. Eighty-two dray trucks have been replaced since the start of the program two years ago to provide up to $20,000 for each eligible vehicle that meets or exceeds the EPA’s 2007 engine standard, according to the MPA’s website. Initial funding came from the MPA, the Maryland Department of Transportation and the EPA. The program is administered by the Mid-Atlantic Regional Air Management Association and the University of Maryland Environmental Finance Center. The MPA says trucks applying for the program are prioritized through a set of criteria, including the age of the truck and the number of trips it takes to and from the port. Replacement truck engines allowed will be no older than 2010 models.
  • Virginia Port Authority — $750,000 to replace three aging straddle carriers with Tier 4 low-emission, hybrid diesel-electric shuttle carriers at the Port of Virginia. The grant leverages another $2.7 million from the port. The older pieces of cargo-handling equipment will be recycled. Tier 4 engines are the cleanest-running diesel engines available for off-road applications. Tier 4 standards require that certain emissions be reduced by as much as 90 percent through the use of control technologies, including advanced exhaust gas after treatment.
  • City of Los Angeles Harbor Department — $469,000 to retrofit 14 pieces of cargo-handling equipment with diesel particulate filters at the Port of Los Angeles. The project is estimated to reduce emissions of particulate matter by 85 percent and carbon by 90 percent. Los Angeles is designated as an extreme area for non-attainment of ozone standards. DERA provided almost $64 million in matching funds for port-related diesel emission-reduction activities several years ago.
  • Port of Tacoma — $600,000 to repower a Tier 0 switcher locomotive with a Tier 3+ engine equipped with an automatic start-stop system to reduce idling by up to 50 percent. The port is contributing $900,000 to the effort. 
  • Port of Seattle — $1.2 million for the second round of the port’s truck replacement program will provide incentives to replace 40 older, heavy-duty drayage trucks with ones powered by 2010 or newer EPA-certified engines. The port authority is offering $30,000 per truck because the 2010 models are more expensive than the 2007 model year trucks. Three years ago, Seattle met its initial target of eliminating all trucks with pre-1994 engines. It helped eliminate more than 270 of the most-polluting trucks by offering incentives of up to $5,000 per truck, or the Blue Book value, whichever was greater. Starting in May, the port will separately offer up to $20,000 to truck owners to replace about 180 older model trucks with model-year 2007 or newer engines by mid-2015, or until funds are depleted. Money for those trucks is coming from the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Washington State Department of Ecology. By 2018, all drayage trucks entering the port will be required to have model-year 2007 or newer engines, or meet 2007 federal emission standards. Earlier this month, the Port of Seattle received a Clean Air Excellence Award from the EPA for its multi-layered program to improve air quality.
  • Port Hueneme, Calif. — $500,000 toward a $2.2 million project to complete electrification of Wharf 1 and provide shore power at all three berths to eliminate vessels running auxiliary engines on diesel fuel. The entire project cost $13 million, the bulk of which was paid for by the port commission. The EPA has designated Ventura County as a serious non-attainment area for ozone. The port conducted its first operational and safety vessel test of the shore power in early April. Hamburg Süd’s Cap Pasley, carrying fresh fruit for Chiquita Brands, was the initial vessel to plug into the electric station. Testing is important for ship operators and longshoremen to become familiar with operating the gear. In December, the port successfully tested the system’s ability to provide a steady, high-voltage load for powering vessels at berth. Retrofitted vessels were scheduled to plug in for the first time to the port’s other two shore-side power units on April 23. Under California statute, container, cruise and refrigerated cargo vessels are required to reduce at-berth emissions in mid-2014 by either turning off auxiliary engines and connecting to another power source or using alternative technology to clean emissions to required levels. Anticipated benefits include a 92 percent reduction in particulate matter, 98 percent reduction in nitrous oxide and a 55 percent reduction in greenhouse gases. Contributions for the project also came from the California Air Resources Board with funds ($4.5 million) from Proposition 1B, the Ventura County Air Quality Control District and other sources.

This article was published in the June 2014 issue of American Shipper.

Edit: An incorrect figure for the amount of old trucks a $750,000 EPA grant would help replace at the Port of Baltimore was provided. The correct figure is 22. There is no local government match. An estimated $650,000 for the balance of the new truck investment will be paid by independent truckers themselves.

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