(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.
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