Port vows to cut air pollution from ships, cargo gear

Local News: Wednesday, January 23, 2008

By Bob Young
Seattle Times staff reporter
Related Archive | Where the worst air is
Port of Seattle commissioners made a commitment Tuesday to dramatically cut air pollution belching from ships and cargo equipment at the docks.

By 2010 the Port would cut toxic soot by 70 percent for docked ships and 30 percent for equipment on shore that hauls cargo. The ports of Tacoma and Vancouver, B.C., have agreed to similar goals.

Although many questions swirl around the proposal, one of the region’s leading clean-air advocates called it a “very significant step forward.”

Dennis McLerran, executive director of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, said the Port’s targets are crucial because they chart a course for how the Port can grow in an environmentally sustainable way.

Equally important is the collaboration with other ports, McLerran said. That means people living and working near the ports benefit from cleaner air, while the ports remain on level competitive ground. “It’s a commitment to make sure competition doesn’t get in the way of environmental performance,” he said.

While almost every speaker at a public hearing praised the plan as a good start, there were complaints and doubts. Some said it doesn’t go far enough because the plan is voluntary and doesn’t levy penalties. Others said it left key questions unanswered.

“The proof will be in what emission reductions are actually achieved,” said Teri Shore, of the environmental group Friends of the Earth, a frequent critic of the Port’s environmental practices.

A 2006 Seattle Times analysis of federal air-quality data found that neighborhoods near the Port of Seattle and Port of Tacoma have some of the unhealthiest air in the state because of diesel pollution. Diesel soot is linked to cancer and asthma.

An analysis of the Port’s diesel pollution shows that docked ships spew the most soot, by far. Harbor vessels, such as tugs and ferries, are next. Cargo-handling equipment, trains and trucks account for the rest.

The Port’s plan doesn’t prescribe specific solutions, instead offering a menu of potential options. For example, it calls for ships to use cleaner fuel when docked.

But Shore complained that cruise ships are essentially exempt from the new standards. “We just don’t understand why,” she said.

Questions were also raised about the Port’s plan for dealing with trucks that park in the Georgetown neighborhood near the Port. Neighbors say the rigs jam their streets and idle for hours. The 1,800 trucks that regularly haul freight from ships to warehouses and rail yards are owned by independent operators and tend to be older vehicles, which pollute more than newer models.

The truckers park on Georgetown streets because it’s cheaper to leave their trucks near the Port than drive them home.

A national coalition of labor and environmental groups wants the Port to require cleaner trucks. The new or improved trucks could be financed by federal and state grants, plus fees charged to so-called dirty trucks and every cargo container coming through the Port, said coalition spokeswoman Heather Weiner.

Weiner said the Port’s plan leaves important questions unanswered. “How to make it mandatory and how to make it affordable to drivers, we don’t know yet,” she said.

But she is encouraged by the Port’s progress. “Six months ago my impression was the Port didn’t know trucks were a problem and now they’re saying, ‘We have a problem and here’s some response.’ ”

The Port of Tacoma approved a resolution last week affirming its commitment to the three-port joint goals. Vancouver is expected to do the same this fall; it has been slowed by the consolidation of the Vancouver Port Authority with the Fraser River Port Authority and North Fraser Port Authority.

In other action, the Port Commission created a special committee to investigate the Port’s vulnerability to fraud, which was highlighted by a state audit last month. The committee will include a citizen representative and independent fraud investigator. The committee can hire a lawyer and consultants and broaden its investigation if necessary. Commissioners Bill Bryant and Gael Tarleton, both newly elected, will serve on the committee.

Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or byoung@seattletimes.com

~ by fredfelleman on January 24, 2008.

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