Our Sponsors:

Read more »

Trending Stories

Our Members

Many thanks to Kate Brostoff & Mel Belding and Mary Koch some of our many supporters.


Most Commented


    Port of Seattle: We are working for environment and jobs

    The port's view: We're not done by any means, but we have made significant progress in reducing emissions that impact the communities around our harbor.

    Trucks operate at a Port of Seattle facility. Residents would like more steps to ensure diesel-engine pollution is minimized.

    Trucks operate at a Port of Seattle facility. Residents would like more steps to ensure diesel-engine pollution is minimized. KCTS

    (Editor's note: This op-ed article from a port commissioner is in response to articles in Crosscut last month on pollution in south Seattle. The stories covered concerns about trucking associated with the Port of Seattle as a source of some of the air pollution there and the Port of Seattle's promotion of environmental policies while advertising itself to shippers as being free of clean-truck fees imposed in some other West Coast ports and while its CEO was assisting efforts to stop federal legislation to regulate truck pollution. The stories are linked in the "Related Stories" box.)

    For 100 years, the Port of Seattle has served as a robust, dependable  economic engine for King County.  Nearly 200,000 jobs across the state are generated by our port activities — steady, family-wage jobs that have helped this region weather many economic storms.  We take that role very seriously and always have job creation at the fore of what we do.  But we don’t stop there: We must also care for the environment, mitigating where we can the ways that our activities impact the world around us. 

    Sustainability, respect for the environment, and building community economic vitality are guiding principles of the Port of Seattle.  Over a broad array of initiatives, the port is working hard to build a strong seaport while also dealing vigorously with very real air and water quality issues associated with maritime business.  The goals of economic success and environmental sustainability can, and must, be pursued together.

    For five years, under the leadership of the Port Commission and CEO Tay Yoshitani, the port has steadily expanded its programs to reduce harmful air emissions — programs that have been developed and implemented in collaboration with other ports, the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, the Washington Department of Ecology, and the EPA.  In 2007, the ports of Seattle, Tacoma, and Port Metro Vancouver, B.C., developed the landmark Northwest Ports Clean Air Strategy, a comprehensive program to proactively reduce emissions from maritime activities: emissions from all maritime activities — not just trucks, but also ships, cargo-handling equipment,  rail, and tugs.  We three ports became the only U.S. or Canadian ports to do so voluntarily; all other ports had been forced by lawsuits or regulatory enforcement order to implement air quality programs

    On Tuesday (July 11), the Port of Seattle Commission will hear about how that program is working.  Because it is working, very well.  We’re not done by any means, but we have made significant progress in reducing emissions that impact the communities around our harbor.  Here are just two examples of that progress:

    Clean Truck Program.  Beginning in January of this year, the Port of Seattle has banned the oldest and dirtiest trucks from entering our terminals.  Through a partnership with the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency,  independent truck owners received $5,000 or Blue Book value, whichever was greater, to scrap pre-1994 trucks; most owners bought newer trucks and stayed in the business.  The average age of cargo trucks in our fleet today is 2002, up from 1998 just three years ago. 

    At-Berth Clean Fuels Program and Shore Power for Cruise Vessels.  Unlike Los Angeles, where the air quality is much poorer and truck emissions account for 25 percent of emissions, ships generate 44 percent of diesel emissions at the Port of Seattle, followed by on-dock cargo handling equipment and rail operations.  Trucks account for just 3 percent.  So, the port began a program that helps defray the expense of more costly low-sulfur fuel for vessels entering the harbor.  More than 116 vessels from eight container carriers and four cruise lines have participated in the program.  Over the last two and a half years, the fuel program has reduced sulfur emissions in the air around the harbor by about 500 metric tons. That’s why our efforts cover a broad range of marine operations and we’ve focused heavily on slashing emissions from ships and cargo-handling equipment.  We offer shore-power connections for cruise ships at Terminal 91, and require all other cruise ships to use lower sulfur fuel in port.  We are studying expansion of shore-power connections to other terminals and other vessels.  On that front, Seattle is outpacing Los Angeles.

    Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!


    Posted Tue, Jul 12, 11:48 a.m. Inappropriate

    Great work on all fronts and thank you. Nothing these days is easy or simple, and simple solutions just don't exist. The Port has made terrific progress. More important, thanks to Mr. Albro for working with data and facts about these important issues.


    Posted Tue, Jul 12, 12:36 p.m. Inappropriate

    OK Let's dissect this sentence: The average age of cargo trucks in our fleet today is 2002, up from 1998 just three years ago.

    So today the average age of today's trucks is (2011-2002)=9 years old

    3 years ago (2008-1998)- 10 years old.

    Wouldn't we have got the same result though attrition than through a program that cost over $1,000,000 so far?


    Posted Tue, Jul 12, 2:55 p.m. Inappropriate

    Ok, the question needs to be asked, why are there ANY trucks moving cargo on waterfront at all? Why isn't there a rail spur right out onto the dock so that the crane could pick the container off the ship and drop it on the rail car??

    If the port was really serious about pollution, they'd have removed all of the trucks off the docks, but then that would hurt jobs. But after I read about the plight of the drivers, it would be better to take that million divide it up among the drivers, and lay in tracks.


    Posted Tue, Jul 12, 4:20 p.m. Inappropriate

    There are rail spurs out onto the terminals, they are called intermodal yards, and yard tractors take containers from the ship to the trains on the terminal. These are for containers being shipped to inland markets in the midwest. But the local and regional economy also needs cargoes to and from ships. There are trucks moving cargo on the waterfront because any exporter inland needs to use a truck to ship their cargo to the vessel. There are also trucks on the waterfront because a lot of containers are landed in Seattle then transferred by truck to large distribution centers nearby in the Kent valley or down around Tacoma where cargo is sorted, packaged, and then shipped out again - distributed - to stores for sale. There are also hundreds if not thousands of local companies in the Puget Sound corridor which import goods from ships and require trucks to get those goods delivered. Trucks are what make the world work for retail goods, food, parts, supplies, building materials, etc etc. And if you look at the Puget Sound Air Inventory mentioned in the article you will learn that the trucks serving the piers are a tiny tiny percentage of the total numbers of trucks operating in our region. About sixty to seventy percent of the containers landed in Seattle can be handled by rail, but the rest requires trucks. And while it is true that the average age of the fleet is still about ten years old, the fact that the average age is now based on trucks built since about 1995 means all the engines are burning enormously cleaner, so the air impact is large. Back when the average age was 1998 lots of trucks were built in the early 90s and the 80s and their engines produced many times more the emissions than newer trucks. So the removal program recently imposed got those oldest trucks off the road. Overall, anyway, diesel fuels are becoming cleaner all the time and emissions are dropping fast for the container fleet and for the rest of the commercial fleet as well.


    Posted Tue, Jul 12, 5:57 p.m. Inappropriate

    I think it's unusual, at least on the West Coast, to have such intense shipping activity within the amphitheater of hills and tall office and residential buildings. It is interesting and entertaining to watch the port operations so I think Seattle has a resource here that is rewarding in several ways. Unfortunately, the cost of handling containers in Seattle's environment is probably higher than San Pedro , Tacoma or Oakland. The truck operations that most of us see and shake our heads about involves a lot of trucks moving containers from Harbor Island to the rail yards east side of State Highway 99. That operation seems primitive and inefficient. There is a rail connection to Harbor Island but it involves a draw bridge that seems to get little use. That has puzzled me for a long time.


    Posted Tue, Jul 12, 9:20 p.m. Inappropriate

    Commissioner Albro, did you write this? I don't think so. In less than two short years, Commissioner Albro has gone from independent thinker to putting his name on the work of the Port staff, carrying all of their water/staff messages in this story.

    Let's all appreciate that Tom likely didn't write this story but put his name on it after port staff drafted it, sent it for review by senior staff, then sent it to the Commission staff, who then sent it to Commissioner Albro for final review/editing/approval. It's the way they do it. There are literally dozens of public affairs staff who do this for the Port, and Tom has decided to buy in to the system in its entirety, slavishly approving the staff's work and giving large salary increases to all who direct and shape the messages. From the Chief of Staff to the Director of External Relations to the Director of Public Affairs to the Public Information Officers to the separate Commission "research" staff to the Commission staff director, this fleet of $100k - $240k per year spinners works full time to make the Commissioner look good and to defend staff decisions. The staff trades their fealty in exchange for unwavering support of their judgement. Some would call it Seattle-style corruption.

    The Port of Seattle collected over $70 million dollars last year from local taxpayers and my question is why? In Los Angeles and Long Beach, the ports send money to their cities, and do not ask for or receive any local subsidies. But after receiving close to a billion dollars in tax subsidy over time from LOCAL King County taxpayers, the Port Commissioners blindly follow a staff that continues to spend/invest in lines of business and other overhead activities that insure the need for continued subsidy. When will we get commissioners who will stand up for the taxpayers. Gail Tarleton is running for reelection after becoming a full time staff and tax subsidy supporter. Why hasn't she and Tom Albro and Rob Holland stopped this ridiculous and unnecessary taxation?


    Posted Wed, Jul 13, 9 a.m. Inappropriate

    "waterfront because a lot of containers are landed in Seattle then transferred by truck to large distribution centers nearby in the Kent valley or down around Tacoma"

    This is in fact an ideal place to use rail. Those are fixed destinations and short haul freight lines used to deliver this sort of stuff all the time.

    "When will we get commissioners who will stand up for the taxpayers. "
    Probably never. I've heard this same complaint about the way the port does business for the last 30 years. Every time we've elected a commissioner who tried to fix this, they got un-elected the next time around. Those who benefit from the current system pour money onto candidates who will keep it in place. There are no other opposing sources of either information or money to explain why it's wrong.


    Posted Wed, Jul 13, 9:03 a.m. Inappropriate

    "These are for containers being shipped to inland markets in the midwest."

    This is the biggest problem for Seattle. Prince Rupert's new cargo container port is a direct challenge for us. Having removed the tracks over Snoqualamie pass leaves us with a bottleneck of a system if anything happens on the other tracks.

    Other than the money we extract unloading the ship, or renting the shipyard, it's not clear how Seattle benefits from having cargo come through the port. Clearly with the tax payers subsidizing the operations of the port it's a net loss to me personally.


    Posted Wed, Jul 13, 10:44 a.m. Inappropriate

    The reason rail isn't used for short haul trips of 10-40 miles to the local distribution centers is cost. It's a lot more efficient to load a container on a truck chassis at the terminal and then drive it directly to the distribution center than it is to place it on a train, then run the train to the site, then use another truck or piece of gear to take the container off the train and put it on a truck chassis to be backed up to the door of the distribution center. Generally any trip of 500-750 miles or less is more efficient using a truck than a truck-to-train/train/train- to-truck-to-destination system. If short haul rail was the answer you'd see lot of short haul rail systems developing and that isn't happening.

    Prince Rupert is a competitior among many others, but they aren't doing that well. Seattle and Tacoma do not have rail bottlenecks to the east, there is a track through Stevens Pass and other lines going south and along the Columbia which are highly efficient and which avoid the slow hauls up over the passes which require extra engines and time. The reason Seattle and Tacoma benefits from handling all this throughput cargo is because this volume makes Seattle or Tacoma a first port of call for shipping lines, so full ships come here with their loads and while lots of those loads head further east (this business does support a lot of jobs, by the way) this also means that the other 30-40 percent of containers on that ship bound for local markets arrive here in Puget Sound directly. If we didn't handle the intermodal eastbound loads, we wouldn't have enough volume to justify a direct ship call to our harbors, meaning that containers bound for Puget Sound would arrive in Prince Rupert or Oakland or Los Angeles and need to be trucked here, adding cost and time. The reason why being a load center for intermodal cargo benefits us is that then the local cargo gets here most efficiently and all the local distribution centers locate here, providing more jobs to local workers.

    This shipping business is complicated and complex and always changing. Maybe a reason why people who get elected to a port commission on a platform of reform end up becoming supportive of what the port does is because once they get into office and learn what is actually happening they realize that some of the things the port is doing are the right things to do.

    The tax support State of Washington ports receives, which by the way was legislated by radical and Progressive Washington voters in the 1900-1920 era, was voted under the view that ports are public assets and needed to be publicly supported to insure that commerce cames to the state and that public piers not be solely held in the hands of private companies. Any economic analysis done which looks at port tax revenue generation as compared to the tax funds port activities generate shows that for every dollar of property tax a Washington port receives, anywhere from $ 3 to $ 6 dollars is returned to the area by the economic activity generated. That's a net gain, not a net loss. Check out a number of studies done by a John Martin which have looked at the economic impact of many Washington ports.


    Posted Wed, Jul 13, 12:28 p.m. Inappropriate

    Oops I mean to say "Any economic analysis done which looks at port tax revenue collection as compared to the tax funds port activities generate...." Apologies.


    Posted Wed, Jul 13, 1:30 p.m. Inappropriate

    Those trucking jobs don't look all that good. If this article by the PI is to believed, the current truckers are stuck doing it because they have to pay off the loans on the trucks.



    Posted Wed, Jul 13, 1:35 p.m. Inappropriate

    "this volume makes Seattle or Tacoma a first port of call for shipping lines,"

    That's also in part because Seattle and Tacoma a day's sailing closer to the Asian ports where the ships start out. Prince Rupert is even closer, so a fuel costs rise, I would expect more Midwest shipping to move to that port.

    "dollar of property tax a Washington port receives, anywhere from $ 3 to $ 6 dollars is returned to the area by the economic activity generated"

    But those dollars are shifted from my pocket, and most of the people here in the region to someone elses who works directly for the Port. That's nuts. It's not like we property owners are paying for a road, or a school, or some other infrastructure, we're paying for a corporation to offload stuff made in another country here. That lowers the cost of manufacturing it somewhere else, which means those manufacturing jobs are outsourced with the help of our tax dollars. It's still stupid.


    Posted Wed, Jul 13, 1:48 p.m. Inappropriate

    Not really - without the port infrastructure in place there wouldn't be lots of the businesses that are here, and it's those businesses, which provide jobs to people and pay property tax and leasehold tax etc, that generate the tax revenues - plus those 200,000 people whose jobs depend on port operations in King County are people who buy groceries, clothes, haircuts, clothing, go to movies, send their kids to schools, all activities that let other people live here providing those services, and yes, everyone in this mix pay taxes, but without the port facilities and without the jobs and industries provided where will the taxes come from then? There isn't a place in the world that has a successful port where that port isn't in some form or another supported by taxes, not anywhere.


    Posted Wed, Jul 13, 9:40 p.m. Inappropriate

    Hmmm -- thetruth sounds a lot like a port consultant. But whatever.

    Looking up the state audits on the port, one finds some interesting reading.

    Look at http://www.sao.wa.gov starting in 2005, search for "Port of Seattle"

    miss use of credit cards, paying for work before it was done..miss management of the cafe, handing out of gifts to vendors..

    report 1000008 on port construction projects is also full of good stuff. Overpayments of $100K, setting of cost estimates by engineers after the bids were submitted. Poor cost controls etc.

    Oh yeah, I'm so glad I'm paying property tax to cover all this poor management.

    And those 200K jobs are the 10X of any job. The airport can pay for itself as can the shipping companies, as can the sailors down at the docks at Shilshole. The land is tax free, that's enough of an operating subsidy.


    Login or register to add your voice to the conversation.

    Join Crosscut now!
    Subscribe to our Newsletter

    Follow Us »