Support Crosscut

Port of Seattle: We are working for environment and jobs

Port of Seattle.

The Port of Seattle. (Chuck Taylor)

(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.

In 2012 ocean-going vessels calling on U.S. and Canadian ports will be required to use fuel with 1 percent sulfur, less than half the current sulfur content, due to new international rules advocated by the Port of Seattle.  In 2015 the sulfur level will drop to 0.1 percent.  That will mean a dramatic reduction in sulfur and diesel particulate emissions.

We know that truck operations in neighborhoods have a larger impact than compared to the region as a whole, which is why we have spent a lot of time working with truck owners, the communities, and employers.  We provide information and assistance directly to the truck owners, and are partnering with Seattle’s Department of Transportation to steer trucks away from parking in residential areas.

The port has a good working relationship with those communities.  Residents are pushing the port — and all local government and health authorities — to do more, but they, too, want a strong economy.

 These communities have borne the impacts of industry for decades.  They lie between two major freeways and Boeing Field and close to a major rail yard.  Delivery trucks, garbage trucks, and school buses are a constant in those neighborhoods: vehicles that are all fueled by diesel.

We’re committed to doing what we can to reduce our impacts on our neighbors.  We have been working directly for more than two years with Georgetown, South Park, and the city of Seattle to reduce port-related truck impacts, including providing free parking for trucks closer to the port and away from homes.

Make no mistake: the Port of Seattle is going to fight to retain and expand our shipping, cruise, and fishing businesses. There are 23,000 jobs directly dependent on Seattle seaport and the port is facing fierce competition in these tough economic times. 

We compete not only with the giant Los Angeles and Long Beach ports and Prince Rupert in Canada, but also with Gulf Coast and East Coast ports hoping to lure more Asian cargo after the expansion of the Panama Canal in 2014.

For our port, that means building the port terminals, logistics, and transportation infrastructure to support moving cargo more efficiently, quickly, and at a lower cost that our competitors.  Because shipping through the Pacific Northwest to the Midwest has the lowest greenhouse-gas footprint, we can tell the world we are the “Green Gateway’’ for trade.

We’re doing something right, because last year we set a new port record for container volume in the midst of the economic difficulties.  That means stable jobs for longshore workers, truck drivers, warehouse workers, tug and barge crews, fuel suppliers, provisioners, and the thousands of others whose livelihoods depend on the seaport. 

Our strong Asian shipping connections are also critical for Washington state manufacturing and agricultural exporters to get their goods to markets around the world.

The Port Commission’s strategy has been to implement practical environmental programs that will produce immediate positive results for the community, based on the best science, and to set targets for steady improvement. 

We endorse the view of Craig Kenworthy, the executive director of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, who told the Port Commission that “we stand ready to work with you on continuing to reduce diesel pollution, and work with you on resources we need to do that, and move forward on making the air better and health better for the people of the region.”  And we appreciate the view of his predecessor, Dennis McLerran, now the regional administrator for Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 10, who said, “We’re just really pleased with the progress that’s being made and the collaboration that’s going on … we’re in the early stages of this, but a lot of success so far.”

Diesel and other emissions have health impacts; there is no arguing that fact.  Diesel emissions come from many sources, and all of those sources must be addressed. The Port of Seattle knows today we have a responsibility to step up to create healthy, economically vibrant communities, and we embrace that responsibility and are working hard to ease our impact on the city we serve.  Everyone deserves to breathe clean air.  Let’s work together to make that happen.

Support Crosscut