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The Green Port Effect

Long Beach marks 10th anniversary of landmark environmental policy

January 21, 2015

At the Port of Long Beach, the world’s greenest terminal is under construction, pioneering anti-pollution measures have led to dramatic clean air gains, and thriving sea life coexists with one of the busiest container ports in the world.

These are just a few of the many environmental successes the Port has achieved under its historic Green Port Policy, adopted 10 years ago this month. At its Feb. 9 meeting, the Board of Harbor Commissioners will celebrate the milestone by honoring those who set the policy in motion.

“Under the mantle of the Green Port Policy, the Port of Long Beach became a leader in changing an entire industry,” said Board President Doug Drummond. “We are thrilled to honor the commissioners who charted this course, and we continue to build on their legacy.”

Becoming the Green Port

When the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners adopted the Green Port Policy on Jan. 31, 2005, the pressure was on for the nation’s busiest port complex to improve its environmental track record, particularly on air pollution. Environmental challenges were stalling major harbor development projects on both sides of the bay. In 2004, the Port of Long Beach dropped plans to redevelop Pier J after environmental and community groups challenged the project’s environmental impact report. In 2003, the Port of Los Angeles settled a lawsuit stemming from similar challenges to its the China Shipping container terminal project. The terms required the Port of L.A. to prepare a new environmental impact report, the project was delayed, and the mounting costs included $50 million for mitigation alone.

The timing was less than ideal economically. The ports were rebounding congestion caused by protracted labor negotiations in 2002 and surging cargo volumes in 2004. Any environmental requirements that would raise the cost of doing business were about the last thing industry wanted to hear.

“It was seen as a very aggressive posture, but the Port had to take a stand and then act,” said former Harbor Commissioner Mario Cordero, an attorney who led the charge for the Green Port Policy and is now Chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission. “We needed to be a green port, pure and simple, something that the community would buy into and would allow us to move to expand the Port’s operations and terminals in a sustainable way.”

Fast forward to today when every major U.S. port has a version of the Clean Trucks Program, similar green initiatives are in place at major ports around the globe, the maritime industry has agreed on an international standard for ships at berth to run on shore-side electricity, and momentum is building in Asia for establishing a low-sulfur fuel emissions control area similar to those in Europe and North America, Cordero said. “Today no one is asking whether or not there is buy-in, the question is what’s the best way to move forward.”

Taking Action

The Green Port Policy committed the Port to six core tenets, only one of which is improving air quality. The others are improving water quality, protecting wildlife, cleaning up the soil of Port lands and underwater sediment, implementing sustainable practices in all aspects of Port operations, and engaging the community on the importance of the Port as an economic engine and an environmental steward.

“Before the Green Port Policy, the Port was doing things that were environmentally responsible but focused on compliance,” said Dr. Robert Kanter, former Managing Director of Environmental Affairs and Planning. Kanter, who retired from the Port in 2013, was one of the chief architects of the landmark measures enacted under the policy, including the San Pedro Bay Ports Clean Air Action Plan (CAAP). “The Green Port Policy was a game-changer. Period.”

The Port swiftly made good on its pledge by expanding its environmental staff, overhauling its approach to environmental impact reports, conducting comprehensive air emissions inventories, and partnering with the Port of Los Angeles to launch the CAAP in late 2006. The latter, an ambitious plan of unprecedented scope for reducing air pollution, ushered in a new era of strategies: incentives for voluntary participation, negotiated practices through lease requirements, and requirements through the tariff and other available regulatory mechanisms. The green leases were modeled on earlier lease agreements Long Beach had signed with marine terminal operators, first with Matson and SSA Terminals, then “K” Line and International Transportation Service (ITS) Inc.

Central to the Port’s success has been its ability to track progress. The first step was to create a baseline inventory of emissions that both Long Beach and LA could use to measure future reductions in air pollution. The ports collaborated with the South Coast Air Quality Management District, the California Air Resources Board and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and it took more than a year for the parties to agree on how to measure pollution and present the findings. The result was a 2005 Emissions Inventory that became the yardstick for measuring air emissions from all port-related sources: ships of all sizes, trucks, trains and cargo-handling equipment.

“We put a big emphasis not only on doing the right thing, but on making sure we were reporting out on what we were doing in a manner that was accurate, credible and defensible,” said Heather Tomley, Director of Environmental Planning for the Port of Long Beach. The process gave rise to a Technical Advisory Committee that still reviews the annual reports prior to their release.

The gains were not achieved in a vacuum. Many in private industry were already seeking to reduce their environmental footprint through voluntary measures, said T.L. Garrett, Vice President of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association. The Green Port Policy was pivotal in that it established a framework for everyone to move forward, he said.

“It created a structure under which the industry could focus its efforts toward making significant environmental improvements,” said Garrett. “Both ports took ownership of the issues, supported strategies with incentive programs, funding, resources and metrics to help maintain and continue the success of these programs into the future.”

Rick Cameron, Managing Director of Planning and Environmental Compliance for the Port of Long Beach, counts the Clean Trucks Program among the Port’s biggest successes. Under the program at both ports, more than 13,000 newer trucks with cleaner-burning engines replaced the entire drayage fleet serving the harbor. That measure cut air pollution from trucks by 90 percent in about three years.

Developing and implementing the program wasn’t easy. And it would not have succeeded without the commitment of the trucking industry, which invested more than $1 billion to turn over the fleet, Cameron said. “Working together, what we were able to achieve in such a short amount of time is a monumental feat.”

Green Port Progress

From the outset, the Green Port Policy represented a permanent commitment to operating a cleaner Port into the future. To date, the Port has backed that commitment with an investment estimated at more than $500 million. The total includes an estimated $18 million awarded to schools, day care and senior centers, health organizations and others for air quality improvement, renewable energy and energy efficiency projects through the Port’s Community Mitigation Grant Programs.

Along the way, the Port’s pioneering programs have earned numerous awards from governmental, educational, trade and environmental organizations. The Port continues to advance programs – many with overlapping benefits – under the Green Port Policy. Current activity in each target area includes:

  • Air: This year, the Port will release its tenth consecutive Emissions Inventory reporting progress made since 2005. View previous Emissions Inventories here. The results will reflect the impact of the first full year of the state’s shore power requirements for container, refrigerated cargo and cruise vessels to plug into shore-side electricity at berth. To date, Port strategies have dramatically slashed harmful emissions that also contribute to the formation of smog. Diesel particulate matter is down 82 percent, sulfur oxides are down 90 percent and nitrogen oxides are down 54 percent since 2005. The gains have been achieved through programs tackling air pollution from every possible source.
  • Water: Its water quality programs predate 2005, but the Port has made greater gains since the Green Port Policy was adopted. Building on the 2006 CAAP, the two ports developed the Water Resources Action Plan (WRAP) in 2009. Under that program, the Port continues to monitor the level of contaminants in the harbor, sediment and fish; advance pollution prevention and stormwater treatment programs; and keep vessel operators, tenants and others informed about key water quality issues. Topics include stormwater runoff; vessel discharges and maintenance activities related to ballast water; gray/black water and underwater hull cleaning; and permits for industrial, commercial and construction activities. Recently, the Port worked with carriers to comply with new permitting requirements for vessel discharges in U.S. waters that took effect in late 2013.
  • Soils/Sediments: Also building on previous work, the Port expanded its soil and sediment cleanup programs after adopting the Green Port Policy. This includes identifying new opportunities for treating and reusing contaminated soils and sediments – not only from past industrial uses, illegal dumping, oil production and pollution entering the harbor through storm drains and rivers on Port property, but also from sites throughout Los Angeles and Orange counties. Examples are the cleanup of Pier A West, formerly used for oil operations, and Port reuse of material from the West Basin, the former Naval Complex, to develop the foundation of Pier T and create landfill at Pier G. In 2013, the Western Dredging Association honored the Port with its Silver Environmental Excellence Award in Navigation Dredging. The Port was honored for a sediment management plan that recycled dredged material, including contaminated soil from third-party sources, to build 65 acres of new container terminal land for the Middle Harbor Redevelopment Project.
  • Wildlife: Wetlands and habitat restoration projects are among the leading examples of the Port’s commitment to protecting, maintaining and restoring aquatic ecosystems and marine life. Examples include contributing more than $50 million to the restoration of the Bolsa Chica Wetlands in Orange County, for which the Port earned environmental mitigation credits, and nearly $2 million to the restoration of Colorado Lagoon in Long Beach. The latter reflects an internal culture change of environmental stewardship for the benefit of the community because it’s the right thing to do, Cameron said. To track the overall progress of wildlife protection and restoration in the San Pedro Bay, the two ports have conducted marine biological surveys since the 1970s. The latest study is underway, and the results are expected next year. The previous survey, conducted in 2008, showed hundreds of species of sea life and birds thriving throughout the harbor. Examples include kelp beds, crustaceans, marine mammals, and pelicans and gulls.
  • Sustainability: Capturing the notion that environmental stewardship and a thriving, commercial seaport are one and the same for Long Beach, sustainability now permeates virtually every aspect of how the Port does business. Examples include the Middle Harbor Redevelopment Project, the modern terminal the Port is building in partnership with Orient Overseas Container Line (OOCL) and its subsidiary, Long Beach Container Terminal (LBCT). Middle Harbor will operate almost entirely on electricity, including the rail-mounted stacking cranes and the yard vehicles that carry cargo between ships and the container yard. With dramatically increased on-dock rail capacity and all Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified buildings, the terminal is expected to be the greenest in the world. (link) Another leading example is the Port’s Technology Advancement Program (TAP), a CAAP initiative created to demonstrate promising sustainable technology that advances the goal of eliminating all emissions associated with port operations. Ongoing TAP projects include testing of a mobile, barge-mounted emissions-capture system for ships at berth in Long Beach. In addition to helping fund the project, the Port is waiving dockage fees for vessel operators involved in testing this and other new technology for reducing air pollution from ships. (link) The Port’s focus on sustainability also emphasizes energy efficiency, conservation and management. Those efforts recently led to lower electricity rates for maritime users in the Long Beach harbor district. The reduction, which took effect last year under a long-term agreement the Port negotiated with Southern California Edison, is expected to save terminal operators, stevedoring companies and other shipping entities more than $350 million over 24 years.
  • Community Engagement: Immediately after adopting the Green Port Policy, Long Beach held its first of six annual Green Port Fest events: open houses that expanded the Port’s previous outreach programs by drawing thousands of people from Long Beach and beyond to learn about the Port firsthand. The Port capped the series with its Centennial Celebration in 2011. Engagement continues in a variety of ways including the Let’s Talk Port series of community forums, sponsorship of public events, targeted outreach to inform the public about specific projects such as the Gerald Desmond Bridge Replacement Project, and partnerships with local schools. Cameron cites monthly meetings with environmental groups as one example of the way the Port now does business that has built trust and paved the way for more meaningful, constructive dialogue.

In 2004, two leading environmental advocacy groups, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Coalition for Clean Air, published “Harboring Pollution: Strategies to Clean Up U.S. Ports.” Many of the strategies identified for ports in the document are among those that are now common practice at the Port of Long Beach. Some even laid the groundwork for statewide regulations, such as those on clean trucks, vessel fuel requirements and shore power.

NRDC attorney Morgan Wyenn credited the San Pedro Bay ports for incubating and implementing clean air programs now being replicated worldwide. There is a lot more work do to protect local communities from port-related air pollution, but the progress made over the past 10 years is a strong foundation and demonstrates the ports’ commitment to clean up port operations, she said.

“The Green Port Policy was an important step toward addressing this problem,” said Wyenn, who praised Tomley, Cameron and other staff for the hard work they have done to find solutions. “They have developed significant expertise in green technology and what it takes to clean up operations. They have become very knowledgeable about what to do and they are on the forefront of how to do it.”

Port officials are the first to agree that more work lies ahead. “The Green Port Policy memorialized our commitment to operating a sustainable, world-class seaport," Cameron said. “We’re looking forward to taking our success to the next level.”

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