By Julie Gedeon

The ports of Seattle, Tacoma and Vancouver, B.C., are expanding their efforts to improve their region’s air quality as part of a draft update to their Northwest Ports Clean Air Strategy. “All three ports recognize that good air quality is essential to their businesses remaining successful and continuing to expand,” says Jason Jordan, Director of Environmental programs at Port of Tacoma. “So we know it’s important to work together to remain ahead of the regulatory community with overarching goals that we can achieve in the best ways possible for each of our ports.”

Under the proposed strategy, diesel particulate matter (DPM) emissions will be reduced by 75 per cent per tonne of cargo by 2015 and by 80 per cent by 2020 (compared to a 2005 benchmark). Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will be cut by 10 per cent per tonne of cargo by 2015 and by 15 per cent by 2020. The new goals are recommended based on emission inventories compiled by Port Metro Vancouver in 2010 and by Ports of Seattle and Tacoma in 2011. “Those follow-ups indicated significant progress had already been achieved towards the original 2015 goals established in 2007,” explains Stephanie Jones Stebbins, Director, Seaport Environmental Programs at Port of Seattle. “The updated goals also reflect changes in regulations, technology and best practices that have expanded the opportunities for reducing emissions.”

ECA effects

Most of the DPM reduction will come from ships having to burn fuel with significantly less sulphur content within North America’s Emission Control Area (ECA). “Already there’s been a huge difference with ships burning fuel with a maximum of 1.0 per cent sulphur content instead of 3.0 per cent since last year, and the 0.1 per cent requirement that comes into effect Jan. 1, 2015, will further reduce DPM,” says Stebbins.

All three ports have encouraged ships to switch to fuels with less than 1.0 per cent sulphur content ahead of the 2015 requirement. Port of Tacoma has recognized four shipping lines that have done so through its Summit Awards program. Seattle offers an incentive that pays approximately 50 per cent of the difference between the higher- and lower-cost fuels. It also provides a rebate based on how little fuel a ship burns while at berth. Port Metro Vancouver charges lower harbour dues based on a ship’s varied efforts towards lowering emissions through cleaner fuel, alternative energy, and/or emission-reducing technology.

The GHG challenge

The GHG reduction target is actually the more ambitious goal and significantly broadens the strategy from its original focus on only lowering DPM with some GHG-related decreases as a result.

“Reducing GHG is a major challenge because it’s so tied to fuel consumption,” says Christine Rigby, Port Metro Vancouver’s environmental specialist – air emissions. “That’s why it’s so important to focus both on increasing fuel efficiencies and seeking cleaner fuel alternatives such as the greater use of plug-in power if it’s derived from low-GHG hydroelectric sources.”

New hybrid and/or alternative fuel technologies do exist, but truckers and terminal operators don’t necessarily have the funds to invest in them, even though such investments would likely reduce operating expenses in the long run, according to Stebbins. “So we’re trying to obtain grant funding for pilot/demonstration projects to determine the feasibility of using this new equipment and in some cases to arrange for grants to help offset the initial costs,” she says. “We’re looking at how we might be able to help, but that raises various questions, such as whether the port should be purchasing the equipment and lending it out, or assisting terminals in buying it,” Stebbins adds.

Next steps

Seattle has already offered financial incentives to truckers operating at its terminals to encourage them to scrap 280 older vehicles. A new program is now underway to offer a buyout or low-interest loan to truckers to get rid of another 162 aging vehicles. In Tacoma, the city partnered with the port to offer incentives towards the elimination of 130 trucks dating back to 1996 or earlier. Port Metro Vancouver requires trucks to meet certain emission standards to qualify for a licence to operate at the port.

The feasibility of using hybrid or alternative fuel cargo-handling equipment is being explored at all three ports. One initiative is examining the viability of hybrid drayage trucks. Other projects involve possibly funding the retrofit or repowering of tugs and other harbour vessels.

Environment Canada, Metro Vancouver, the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Washington State Department Protection Agency have all partnered in aspects of the strategy and remain involved. “Being able to leverage their knowledge and resources – including key funding – has been one of the major advantages of working in collaboration,” Jordan says.

All three ports are encouraging their clients and tenants to join third-party environmental programs designed for their industry, such as Green Marine and the Clean Shipping Index. “Those programs are really good at sharing information about new technology and best environmental management practices,” Stebbins says. “They also usually provide a framework to measure DPM and GHG emission reductions.” The strategy’s goals are set per cargo tonne rather than overall port emissions to ensure that efficiency improvements are measured rather than the outcome of fluctuations in cargo traffic. “It’s also easier for the public to understand the progress that we’re making on a cargo tonne basis,” Stebbins says. Approval of the draft plan by each port’s governing body is expected before year-end.

“Being in a shared air shed, it only makes sense for us to collaborate, and having a regional initiative among three large ports raises awareness about the program and the importance of meeting its requirements,” Rigby says. “It also alleviates concerns about competition by taking the environment out of that equation.”

Global solutions

Collaboration is being sought elsewhere, too. The Global Shippers’ Forum (GSF) has been calling for a transparent, harmonized method for reducing GHG emissions for several years. “Given the global nature of moving goods by ship, it’s essential that ultimately there’s a global solution to reducing GHG maritime emissions,” says Rachel Dillon, GSF’s climate change policy advisor.

Now the European Commission is calling for a law that requires monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) for large ships (more than 5,000 gross tonnes) that use European Union ports, regardless of where the ships are registered.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is ultimately responsible for emission reductions, but GSF is concerned with the slow progress towards a global solution. “A number of market-based measures are on the table, such as a bunker levy, cap-and-trade scheme, and various efficiency-based initiatives,” says Dillon. “And some progress has been made with IMO’s adoption of the Energy Efficiency Design Index in 2011 as a metric to set minimum energy standards for ships … but some countries, such as India, are questioning whether there should even be market-based measures.”

If the European Commission is able to establish a common method for determining maritime emissions, it should be easier to set reduction targets and then demonstrate the benefits of doing so to other IMO states. “Ultimately, a global target would be more favourable,” Dillon says.