Stakeholder Advisor Meeting Touts Progress, But Skirts Difficulties

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The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach once again reported progress at the Clean Air Action Plan stakeholder advisory meeting held online via Zoom on Oct. 19, but serious questions loom over the two largest polluting sources — port trucks and ocean-going vessels — and the continued lack of a timeline raises serious accountability concerns.

The ports once again touted their progress since 2005, diesel particulate matter (DPM) down 20%, nitrogen oxide, which contributes to smog, down 44%, sulfur oxide, which contributes to particulate matter, down 97% and greenhouse gasses down 29%, all achieved with a 20% increase in container throughput — although ship arrivals were down 30%, due to significant increases in ship size. Those gains were front-loaded in the early years of the CAAP, described as “low-hanging fruit” by Chris Cannon, POLA’s director of environmental management. But there was no analysis of more recent progress, or lack thereof — such as the delay in implementing the clean truck fee, finally scheduled to be considered by both ports the first week in November.

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Trucks and ocean-going vessels contribute 98% of sulfur oxide, 71% of nitrogen oxide, 70% of greenhouse gasses, and 45% of diesel particulate matter. Rail (27%) and harbor craft (24%) are significant DPM contributors, as well as NOx contributors (12% and 11% respectively), while cargo handling equipment contributes 16% to greenhouse gasses. No other sources contribute more than 7% to one kind of pollution, so the predominant importance of ships and trucks is vividly clear.

When it comes to ships, the vessel speed reduction program has more than 90% compliance, with a 12-knot speed limit from 20 or 40 nautical miles off Point Fermin incentivized by reduced dockage fees on a fleetwide basis. The two ports also have ship incentive programs, with reduced dockage fees for cleaner ships, based on the international environmental ship index, which ranges from zero (base rate engine performance) to 100 (no emissions). 

In Los Angeles, Tier II ships are discounted $750 if they score 40 to 49, $2,500 if higher, while Tier III ships are discounted an additional $5,000. At Long Beach, tier II ships are discounted $600 if they score 25 to 47, $3,000 if they score 48-53, and $6,000 if higher, while Tier III ships are discounted an additional $3,000.

Tier III ships are significantly cleaner, but much rarer, too. In response to questions by Richard Havenick, chairman of the Environment & Sustainability of the Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council, Morgan Caswell, POLB Manager of Air Quality Practices, said that POLB had received just 15 Tier III vessel visits in 2020, and did not expect rapid growth. There was a rush to begin building Tier II vessels before the Tier III standard became effective in 2016, she acknowledged, “and we do expect it will take some time for the turnover to those cleaner Tier III vessels. We understand that vessels have a very long lifetime.” But even Tier III vessels are far from zero emission. POLA’s 2020 figures were similar: 18 vessels: 7 container ships, one cruise ship and 10 tankers.

On the truck side, participants objected to the low $10 container fee, delays in moving to zero emissions and inadequate protections for misclassified truckers. Michael Munoz, a researcher with the LA Alliance for a New Economy, neatly summarized the predominant concerns, beginning with misclassification.

“So long as you allow companies who consistently break the law by misclassifying port truck drivers, there will always be costs being passed on to drivers whether it’s a $10 fee, a $75 or the cost of purchasing or maintaining a new truck. Those costs will eventually be passed along so long as the ports turn a blind eye to misclassification,” Munoz said. 

But misclassification also connects to the issue of zero emissions, he explained.

“Our fear is that by incentivizing near-zero emissions trucks, the ports will be prolonging the problem of misclassification and the burning of fossil fuels which will undoubtedly delay the adoption of zero emission trucks,” he said.

He applauded POLA “for committing that any funds raised by the clean truck rate fund will be used for zero mission technology,” a step POLB hasn’t taken, and warned:

By not dealing with misclassification and pushing natural gas trucks, the ports will be shooting themselves in the foot. Data collected by CARB attempting to measure the progress towards emissions goals established by the Bus and Truck rule shows that trucks driven by misclassified drivers have lower compliance levels. That’s because trucking companies are illegally passing along maintenance costs onto the drivers, who have to delay truck maintenance to provide for their family or simply can’t afford upgrades to newer, cleaner trucks.

In short, the ports are still ducking the hard problems at the heart of transitioning truck and vessel fleets to zero emissions. But they can’t keep ducking them forever.

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