PNW ports: Progress on clean air but EPA readies hammer
The ports of Seattle, Tacoma and Port Metro Vancouver, British Columbia released their first annual Northwest Clean Air Strategy implementation report, which provides an update on their efforts since 2007 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the Pacific Northwest.
On the same day the ports were issuing the clean air progress report, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed rules designed to slash harmful air emissions from ocean going cargo vessels, which are the among largest category of polluters in port and coastal regions. What has been a mostly collaborative and voluntary approach to air emission regulation, in the PNW at least, will soon become mandatory for ports and port stakeholders.
The ports’ 25-page 2008 Implementation Report follows up on the groundbreaking alliance they formed in 2007 that devised the region’s clean air strategy goals for 2010 and 2015. The goal of the regional partnership is to reduce maritime and port-related diesel and greenhouse gas emissions in the Pacific Northwest from current and future maritime port operations through specific strategies and actions within each category of port operation.
The strategy has three elements:
- Reduce maritime and port-related air quality impacts on human health, the environment, and the economy
- Reduce contribution to climate change through co-benefits associated with reducing air quality impacts
- Help the Georgia Basin/Puget Sound airshed continue to meet air quality standards and objectives
The Implementation Report addresses goals for transparency, progress, and clarity around air quality. There remains a number of technical reporting standards to clarify between the three port agencies, but “there have been good benchmarks established for future collaboration, as environmental goals are met in the coming years,” the Port of Seattle said.
The report says that in Vancouver only 7 percent of ocean-going vessel calls to the Burrard Inlet and Roberts Bank port areas met or exceeded the Strategy’s 2010 performance target. In Seattle, 29 percent of frequent ocean going vessel calls – 100 percent or cruise and 7 percent of cargo container vessels met or exceeded the 2010 standard. Tacoma did much better, with 57 percent of vessel calls meeting or exceeding the performance measure by using distillate (0.5 percent sulfur) fuel for auxiliary engine operation.
It concludes that the ports and the other stakeholders in the region “have all demonstrated progress in meeting the 2010 performance measures established in the PNW clean air strategy.” It acknowledges areas where further improvements are needed, but it also says that the rate at which new clean technologies emerge “will assist the ports in devising implementation activities to reach both the 2010 and 2015 performance measures.”
In addition, stimulus funds could create further opportunities for ports to continue and possible broaden the scale of emission reduction efforts.
These efforts in the PNW likely will take a more urgent turn with the EPA’s pending rulemaking, which will set “tough engine and fuel standards” for U.S. vessels that will “harmonize with international standards and lead to significant air quality improvements throughout the country.”
“These emissions are contributing to health, environmental and economic challenges for port communities and others that are miles inland,” says EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “Lowering emissions from American ships will help safeguard our port communities, and demonstrate American leadership in protecting our health and the environment around the globe.”
The rule follows another part of EPA’s strategy, a proposal last March by the U.S. and Canada to designate thousands of miles of the two countries’ coasts as an Emission Control Area (ECA). The International Maritime Organization (IMO), a United Nations agency, begins consideration of the ECA plan later this month, which would result in stringent standards for large ships operating within 200 nautical miles of the coasts of Canada and the United States.
Air pollution from large ships, such as oil tankers, cargo and passenger ships, is expected to grow rapidly as port traffic increases. By 2030, the domestic and international strategies are expected to reduce annual emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) from large marine diesel engines by about 1.2 million tons and particulate matter (PM) emissions by about 143,000 tons.
When fully implemented, EPA says the coordinated effort would reduce NOx emissions by 80 percent and PM emissions by 85 percent compared to current emissions.
It also says the emission reductions from the proposal would yield “significant health and welfare benefits” that would span beyond U.S. ports and coastlines, reaching inland areas. EPA estimates that by 2030, this effort would prevent between 13,000 and 33,000 premature deaths, 1.5 million workdays lost, and 10 million minor restricted-activity days. The estimated annual health benefits in 2030 as a result of reduced air pollution are valued between $110 and $280 billion at an annual projected cost of approximately $3.1 billion – as high as a 90-to-1 benefit-to-cost ratio.
The proposed rule is designed to reflect the IMO’s stringent ECA standards and broader worldwide program. The rule adds two new tiers of NOX standards and strengthens EPA’s existing diesel fuel program for these ships. It represents another milestone in EPA’s decade-long effort to reduce pollution from both new and existing diesel engines under the National Clean Diesel Campaign.