Obama Administration Announces New Strategies to Reduce Air Pollution at Ports

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Looking down on the port city from high in Mobile’s government building, Mobile is trying to get in on the competition for bigger shapes with a plan to dredge the ship channel: Glynn Wilson

By Glynn Wilson –

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In the continuing drive to reduce the sources of air pollution in the environment before leaving office next January, the Obama administration has announced a new set of strategies aimed at improving air quality around the nation’s ports.

An EPA report released Thursday shows that air pollution at the nation’s ports can be reduced significantly through economical strategies and the use of newer, cleaner technologies to reduce greenhouse gases and other harmful emissions from diesel-powered ships, trucks and other port equipment.

The National Port Strategy Assessment: Reducing Air Pollution and Greenhouse Gases at U.S. Ports” examines current and future emission trends from diesel engines in port areas, and explores the air pollution reduction potential of replacing and repowering older, dirtier vehicles and engines and deploying new “zero emissions technologies.”

“This report shows that there are many opportunities to reduce harmful pollution at ports that we know will work,” said Christopher Grundler, director of EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality. “This is great news for the roughly 39 million Americans who live and breathe near these centers of commerce.”

Many ports in the U.S. are gearing to expand significantly as international trade continues to grow and larger ships bringing plastic goods from China and elsewhere clamor for space in expanded ports.

“This growth means more diesel engines emitting carbon dioxide that contributes to climate change,” the EPA concludes. The same machines emit fine particulate matter, nitrogen oxides and other pollutants that contribute to serious health problems such as heart and lung disease, respiratory illness, even premature death in some cases.

“Children, older Americans, outdoor workers and individuals with respiratory and heart conditions can be especially vulnerable,” scientists say.

Also at work, many of the nation’s ports are located in areas with a high percentage of low-income and minority populations, who bear the burden of higher exposure to emissions in cases of environmental injustice.

Accelerating the retirement of older port vehicles and equipment and replacing them with the cleanest technology will reduce emissions and increase public health benefits, the report shows.

For example, the report found replacing older “drayage” cargo trucks with newer, cleaner diesel trucks can reduce NOx emissions by up to 48 percent and particulate matter emissions by up to 62 percent by 2020. In 2030, adding plug-in hybrid electric vehicles to these fleets could yield even more NOx and PM2.5 relative reductions.

“The new assessment supports EPA’s Ports Initiative’s goals to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gases, to achieve environmental sustainability for ports, and improve air quality for all Americans,” the report concludes.

EPA is engaging with a wide range of stakeholders in implementing these new strategies. Port management is being engaged as well as industry, state and local governments officials, surrounding community leaders, Native American tribes and other technical and policy related interested parties.

“EPA developed this national scale assessment based on a representative sample of seaports, and the results could also inform decisions at other seaports, Great Lakes and inland river ports, and other freight and passenger facilities with similar profiles,” the agency says, while pointing out that federal regulations are already reducing port-related diesel emissions from trucks, locomotives, cargo handling ship and equipment.

The North American and U.S. Caribbean Sea Emissions Control Areas require lower sulfur fuel to be used for large ocean-going vessels, for example.

“This requirement has reduced fuel-based particulate-matter emissions from these vessels by about 90 percent,” the agency says.

Find out more information here about on EPA’s Ports Initiative.

© 2016, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.