When the ports of L.A. and Long Beach proposed the Ports of San Pedro Bay Clean Air Action Plan last year, the plan initially garnered unanimous support from the port community. While politicians, the ports, and shippers were on board, plans to green the ports' fleet of trucks have caused cracks to emerge in the implementation process. MIR recently with the president of the L.A. Board of Harbor Commissioners, S. David Freeman, who is working to solve this challenge so the ports can achieve their ambitious goals for cleaning up their facilities.
In your last interview with MIR, in April of this year, you mentioned that trucking companies were the "weak link" in the implementation of the San Pedro Bay Ports Clean Air Action Plan. Has there been any progress or consensus with the trucking companies on the green trucking plan?
There has been progress, but not to the point where we have started implementing the plan. It turns out that it's not only the weak link, but there are a lot of squeaky wheels in that link that have been raising their voices. We've been listening, and as we've had hearings and heard from people, we're peeling off the layers. But we have set ourselves a final deadline of December 14. It's important that we get the program implemented and underway.
It turns out to be a formidable set of issues. We have two cities working together, not to mention two port commissions that have not worked together for 50 years and are now finally working together. We're dealing with them head on, and our objective remains the same: we're determined that we have a plan for cleaner air, tighter security, and a stable workforce. Those three objectives are turning out to be a little tougher to implement than we first assumed, but we're just about there.
Elaborate on the objectives you mentioned. How would the Clean Air Action Plan achieve these objectives? What options are on the table?
We, as a staff, threw out a number of options. I'm one of the decision makers, and I'm not going to say what the program will eventually be, but there is a general consensus that we have got to replace trucks that are highly polluting with trucks that will reduce the pollution by about 85 percent in the period of five years. That is what we've laid out as our goal, and I'm happy to say that the California Air Resources Board (CARB), under the leadership of Mary Nichols, is leaning toward a similar goal for the state as a whole. That's one fundamental thing.
Another fundamental thing is that we have 16,000 truck drivers that are coming through our port, and we're not satisfied that the security requirement is tight enough. The federal government is moving at the speed of molasses to provide us with more sophisticated I.D. and elevators, so we just may have to tighten up the security requirements ourselves if they don't get out of molasses and into high gear. That's the second element of our program.
The third is to ensure that we have a stable workforce. That means that the truck drivers need to have adequate compensation to attract them to come to the port and not be the only people working here that are not making a decent living. So we have three fundamental objectives, and the third is more controversial than the other two, but we're trying to work with the industry, consumer groups, and lobbyists to hammer out the best possible program. As I said in an interview some time ago, we cannot promise eternal happiness to everyone. When you make changes, some people will not be happy with them; that's the price of progress.
Are the ports' stakeholders achieving some solidarity on how best to mitigate pollution from goods movement? MIR recently interviewed the Secretary of ILWU Local 63, Peter Peyton, about labor's recent contributions to the green movement. MIR also interviewed Gene Pentimonti with Maersk about their efforts to clean up the port. On what issues is there most agreement or, conversely, the most contention?
The interesting thing is that the debate has progressed. I think we've succeeded in persuading everyone involved that we have to have cleaner-burning trucks, i.e., that we have to reduce pollution. That is a vital part of the program that everyone is at least giving vocal acquiescence to. The trucking industry has appeared before me and my colleagues and others, testifying that they recognize that they've got to get rid of some of the oldest, most polluting trucks, that they've got to control pollution from trucks that are four, five, or six years old, that we have to have new trucks that meet the 2007 standards, that, hopefully by our own initiative, we can bring LNG trucks into the picture, which will be cleaner, and maybe even that we can have electric trucks for short distances in the near dock facilities.
So, the march of progress is underway. I haven't heard a lot of opposition to the idea we need to tighten security. The major controversy arises in just how best to go about ensuring that everybody who working to bring security makes a decent living.
This fall, SB 974, State Senator Lowenthal's container fee bill stalled. How can the container fee bill advance in the state Legislature, and how important is that to the ports' efforts to reduce pollution and congestion?
The politics are above my pay grade, but the practical situation is that the ports are in position, and intend, to adopt a container fee ourselves to help pay the costs for the cleaner trucks, and we are, I think, prepared to enact those fees. It's quite possible that Senator Lowenthal's bill will cover a more regional aspect, and we will take care of the local aspect. These are decisions that our mayor in Long Beach and others will make, but I think that I wouldn't say that that situation is solved as much as it hasn't been implemented yet. We have ample authority to impose a fee to defray the costs for the environmental side and some of the local infrastructure if we choose to do so. So, one way or the other, we're going to make a deal, and I think that would be done by our self-imposed deadline of December 14, leaving the broader issue to the Legislature in the spring.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District recently honored Mayor Bob Foster for his work on the Clean Air Action Plan, but Mayor Villaraigosa came out at the last minute against SB 974. What is at stake here that has these mayors so involved in the process?
I think that you will find that the two mayors are united in their leadership role to bring cleaner air to the ports. The Clean Air Action Plan was one that both ports had done together. Both mayors came together, and they're both entitled to accolades for their leadership. We went for a decade here with traffic growing at the enormous rate of ten percent a year, and frankly, all we got was ten percent more air pollution every year. This was essentially an unregulated area. I'm not blaming the regulatory agencies; they have limited authority over international commerce. The leadership came from the mayors and the ports. I think that now, CARB and the mayors' are stepping up their leadership. Senator Lowenthal deserves accolades for a four-year-long fight, virtually alone here. But he's got company now, and I think that between the ports' action locally and his action at the state level, we'll get that part of the job done. I think you're seeing the press evolving-not in a straight line, but it's evolving.
The world's largest alternative maritime power (AMP) vessel, China Shipping Container Line's Xin Ya Zhou, made its maiden call at the Port of Los Angeles in September. The Port of Los Angeles is the only port in the world currently using AMP technology to plug containerships into electrical power. What is the significance of Xin Ya Zhou's arrival and AMP technology?
It's quite significant in that we're substituting electricity, which, more and more, is going to be made from solar power and wind power and biomass instead of imported oil. Believe me, that is an advance not only in pollution control but also in energy independence. As I've said again and again, it's okay for environmentalists to be patriotic. And we have been, as part of our Clean Air Action Program, implementing AMPing at the terminals to make them modern. That still leaves the main engines of the ships coming into port as a major of source of pollution, but we're cracking down in terms of the cleanliness of the fuel that they use.
Our technology program is looking at additional methods of control. It's not out of the question that in the future we could get scrubbing systems that could be placed on ships and perhaps injecting some hydrogen into the fuel to help clean it even more. So, the march of progress is underway. Our long-term goal is an all-electric port, with all the electricity being generated by the sun and the wind and growing things. We're not just making that speech; we're looking hard at things like the practicality of a 21st century version of a railroad, like a mag lev monorail system that moves the containers. We're trying to develop all-electric equipment for the short hauls, and the trains are all being run by electricity. We at the ports are really putting our money where our mouth is in terms of advancing the technology that's available to clean the place up.
I think that our AMPing technology is on the cutting edge. We hope we can unveil all-electric trucks in the next six months, and I believe that the whole notion of trying to move toward electricity produced by renewable resources is the way to go. We'll be announcing, I think, a renewable program down at the port so that when we are AMPing the ships, people will know that we are AMPing them with the power of the sun and not coal.
The TraPac Container Terminal released its DEIS/DEIR recently. Is this project the future model for development in the ports, and what is its current status?
We hope to bring it before our commission by the end of November after the ongoing public comment period. We are in the process of working out an agreement with the attorney general, who is taking a vigorous and enlightened interest in the project. He wants us to take the EIR very seriously, and we've had some discussions with his office. I think we've reached an agreement on what we're going to do in our leadership role here. I think that we learn with each project whether this project is a model. With each project, we're going to learn more and do a better job. If we get done this year, as we expect, it'll be the first major project improvement that this port has approved in the last several years. So we're breaking the logjam.
You have agreed to participate in the GreenXchange Global Marketplace Conference December 10-11 (greenxchangexpo.com). Your panel will address the greening of the ports- Has the harbor found a way to balance economic growth and sustainability?
We don't believe in the word "balance;" we believe that growth and greening go hand in hand. Our objective is to grow the port and green it simultaneously. Indeed, unless it's green, it can't grow, and unless it grows, it can't be green.