Ports’ Clean Air Progress Clouded by Lack of Transparency

  • 01/10/2019
  • Paul Rosenberg

By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor

Just before the holidays, more clouds appeared on the horizon of the ports’ Clean Air Action Plan, raising new questions about the ports’ transparency, honesty in reporting and commitment to stated long-term zero-emission goals, in the continued absence of a community oversight body similar to the Port Community Advisory Committee.

On Dec. 18, the ports released a draft feasibility assessment of clean truck technology, which was seriously out of line with the zero emission goals, according to community critics.

“The title of the study and scope of study is inappropriate,” the Coalition For A Safe Environment said in a draft of its comments made available to Random Lengths News by Executive Director Jesse Marquez. “It is a fact that zero- emission trucks exist and are commercially available for sale in California now.  The Port of Los Angeles is manipulating the title and study to infer that zero-emission trucks do not exist and are not feasible for port freight transportation or project mitigation.”

The coalition comments went on to note the study’s failure “to conduct a thorough survey and study of all zero-emission truck manufacturers.” The coalition does monthly updates of its own zero-emissions commercial availability survey, which lists nine Class 8 trucks, only one of which is mentioned in POLA’s analysis. Public comments are being accepted through  Jan. 23. (See “Community Alerts,” p. 9.)

The next day, at the Clean Air Action Plan Advisory Committee meeting, Wendy Gutschow from the USC Keck School of Medicine delivered detailed critical comments prepared by professors Andrea Hricko and Jill Johnston. The written report they submitted ran 24 pages.

While Keck applauded the ports for their significant reduction of air pollution emissions between 2005 and 2018 — and for their ongoing efforts, they went on to note that “Both ports have been disingenuous in claiming that this past year’s emission reductions were the ‘greatest ever’ even while cargo loads increased.”

In fact, emissions increased at both ports for a majority of categories tracked. There are eight categories of emissions tracked, for five source categories, for a total of 40 categories, 23 of which have gone up from 2016 to 2017 at POLA. These include seven out of eight pollutants for locomotives and all eight pollutants for cargo-handling equipment. Harbor craft were the only emission source with decreases in all categories, while heavy-duty trucks saw increases in five categories and oceangoing vessels saw increases in three. Total emissions of particulate matter, hydrocarbons, sulfur oxide, carbon dioxide and total greenhouse gasses all increased.

“The Port of Los Angeles stands by the 2017 emissions inventory,” the port said in statement provided by spokesman Phillip Sanfield. “The headline and first paragraph in the accompanying news release refers to record low nitrogen oxide emissions.”

However, after the first paragraph, the press release read, “Overall, the 2017 findings show the port has maintained or exceeded the dramatic clean air progress it has made over the last 12 years.”

“Not true,” Keck responded. “It has not maintained its progress since 2016! Sixty percent of pollutant emissions are up since 2016.”

Peter Warren, a long-time port activist with Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council said, “It is clear from this latest POLA emissions inventory that port growth still means more year-to-year pollution and that the port has not met the challenge of decreasing air pollution overall as growth increases.”

Two other key points were raised regarding POLA.

“No mention was made in the emissions inventory for 2017 that cruise ships had not been able to plug into electricity for more than four months at the end of 2016 because the cruise terminal was being remodeled and shore power was not available,” Gutschow said. “And, no mention was made in any of the emission inventories from 2012-2016 that the USS Iowa battleship was using a diesel generator instead of plugging into electricity. For at least some of that time, the generator was not even permitted by the AQMD!”

Regarding cruise ships, POLA said: “Our 2017 emissions inventory includes emissions of cruise ships that plugged in to shore power and also those that did not plug in to shore power.”

And, regarding the Iowa, POLA said, “We do not include smaller stationary source emissions,  such   as the portable generator used by the Battleship Iowa.”
But this conflicts directly with underlying rationale of the Clean Air Action Plan, which was to develop and implement a comprehensive port-wide approach. It’s unclear how many other emissions are not included.

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