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Clean Air Action Plan will reshape our ports — for the better or the worse

October 12, 2017

The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach’s proposed Clean Air Action Plan is transformative and will reshape the Southern California waterfront — the question is, will the waterfront be reshaped for the better or the worse?

No one will be immune from the CAAP’s recommended program — not longshoremen and truckers working on and around the waterfront, nor warehouse workers in the Inland Empire or agricultural exporters in the Central Valley. Everyone who touches or relies on freight in Southern California will be impacted.

The CAAP mandates the use of zero-emission, electric equipment at marine terminals by 2030 and zero emission trucks by 2035.

Given its far-reaching scope and significant impact to California’s economy, the CAAP requires thoughtful analysis and honest discussion about its impact. Failure to adequately do so puts the ports and those depending on the ports at risk.

Ports and their tenants operate in a hyper-competitive global trade environment. But, we aren’t “the only game in town.” Numerous alternative gateways throughout North America for cargo interests to use exist. Whether it’s Prince Rupert in Canada, Lazaro Cardenas in Mexico or Gulf and East Coast ports like Houston, Mobile, Jacksonville, Savannah, New York/New Jersey and others — the opportunities for cargo diversion are more plentiful than ever before.

All of the above trade gateways have enjoyed higher rates of growth during the past 10 years than the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. These non-Southern California gateways are aggressive and they all want this cargo. In addition, Los Angeles and Long Beach have lost market share to the competition.

As the current CAAP highlights, emissions from Southern California port operations have declined dramatically since the first CAAP was implemented in 2006. These reductions have been achieved through the active partnership between the ports, their tenants and customers, local communities and regulators. No other industrial sector has reduced emissions in such significant amounts so quickly. These emissions reductions are truly a cause for celebration — but not complacency.

Unfortunately, as we enter the CAAP’s next phase, where the remaining emission reductions are small because there’s not much left to reduce, the ports are attempting to dictate how the remaining emissions reductions are to be achieved irrespective of cost.

According to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, $2 billion was spent to reduce various pollutants from trucks and cargo-handling equipment by approximately 96 percent in the first two CAAPs. For CAAP Version 3, cost projections range from between $8 to $14 billion to reduce the remaining four percent to zero. We, as do the ports, believe these figures to be low and speculative as the cost estimates rely on technology and equipment that currently does not exist.

So, while the CAAP seeks zero emissions as its goal, the document does so without regard to cost, competitiveness or impact to jobs, and is carried out at an accelerated rate not required of any other industrial sector in California or the general motoring public, the largest emissions source in the state.

The current CAAP is a program based entirely on faith — the belief that the ports’ mandated technology will be developed, work as envisioned, will be commercially available and that funding will magically appear.

The CAAP’s first two versions represent the best of California’s environmental leadership. Its success is inextricably linked to a partnership between all impacted parties. But the current draft CAAP takes a notably different, negative turn. While its objectives are admirable, it is arbitrary in its deadline, misleading in its impact and will likely be isolated in its application by other ports around the world.

On behalf of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, we enthusiastically support efforts by the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to transform both gateways. We support a cleaner, more energy efficient San Pedro Bay port complex which also creates jobs and bolsters the state’s economy. However, based on what we’ve seen in the current CAAP, the “transformation process” that is recommended would result in a mutation that would likely harm an economic and environmental success story. We must proceed with caution.

John McLaurin is president of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association.

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