Read a Pacific Northwest, liberal perspective on world, national, and local politics. From majestic Redmond, Washington - the Northwest Progressive Institute Official Blog.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Cleaning up the air at the Port of Seattle

Note from the Executive Director: On behalf of all of us at the Northwest Progressive Institute, I am pleased to welcome Port Commissioner Alec Fisken to the Official Blog. We are delighted that he is sharing his perspective with our readers in this special guest post.

“Cancer deaths from port air emissions” has been a front page story in California newspapers for the past year, and the debate has stalled port growth at Los Angeles and Long Beach, and led to some well-meaning, but ineffective, solutions.

We have the opportunity in Puget Sound to skip that debate and reduce the impact of air emissions while we grow the volume of trade through our ports.

Over the past few decades our air has gotten cleaner as factories, cars, trucks, and power plants have reduced their emissions of gases that cause air pollution.

Ships that carry goods in international trade have not been subject to the same federal and local regulation, and now gases from those ships have become a bigger share of air pollution. As port activity grows, the ships, trucks, locomotives and terminal equipment are responsible for a significant share of air quality problems.

Big ships are the worst, largely because of the fuel (“bunker fuel”) that they burn, but the recently-completed study of air emissions in the Puget Sound shows that ferries and other local vessels also play a big role, as do the trucks, trains cranes and other terminal equipment associated with maritime commerce.

In California, port air emissions have created a crisis, with port communities blocking any growth if it will add to emissions. It’s a subject of serious concern in Vancouver, British Columbia, and also for many of the larger ports on the east coast. It is reasonable to ask whether voters will support port growth if it means increasing pollution in the surrounding region.

At the same time, technological solutions to reduce ship emissions have been developed. Vessel operators have successfully tested different fuels, scrubbers, and other technologies that reduce noxious emissions by large amounts. Truckers in the Northwest, and elsewhere on the coast, are successfully testing technologies that reduce diesel particulate from the truck operations that are essential to container terminals. So this is a problem that can be solved.

The place to look for a solution is the ports. Because ships travel from one port to another, we need a solution that is uniform.

And because emissions reduction technology is evolving rapidly, we need to specify the emissions reduction required – not the technology used to achieve it. We need to say what the emissions target is, not how you have to achieve it.

Voters have a right to expect that ports will solve this problem.

U.S. ports are not subject to anti-trust rules – they can work out common standards with the customers they serve. State legislatures are all too likely to impose solutions like that recently enacted in Southern California, where new requirements may well be eliminated in court.

The legislature is not the right place to solve the problem. It’s tough for legislators to take the time to balance the technical issues and the environmental priorities of other regions to produce useful regulation that will apply to all ships calling at North American ports.

An even worse approach is to accept higher ship emission levels in the Northwest in exchange for a small commercial advantage over California ports. This region won’t accept second-class status in air pollution regulations - and it shouldn’t.

Ports are uniquely suited to tackle this issue. They can make solutions uniform, and develop standards in a way that will bring industry to the table with the best available technology. The Port of Seattle can lead that effort, help reduce port-related emissions throughout North America, and grow and prosper while it improves its environmental impact on the region.

Commissioner Alec Fisken is running for reelection to the Seattle Port Commission (Position #5). He is currently finishing his first term as Commissioner.

<< Home