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Port of Virginia works to stem pollution as cargo traffic increases

Friday, 19 April 2013 | 00:00
As air quality requirements for shipping become more stringent, the Virginia Port Authority is trying to promote cleaner fuel, equipment and transportation alternatives for moving cargo.
That’s what the authority’s director of enviromental affairs, Heather Wood, told attendees of an Ecoconference workshop at the Ted Constant Convocation Center in Norfolk. The Ecoconference was sponsored by Old Dominion University’s Business Gateway and Inside Business.
Although cargo volume to the port increased 18 percent from 2005 to 2011, air pollution decreased overall by 28 percent and particulate matter or dust was cut in half, she said.
 “We try to set the example first,” Wood said, adding the port authority couldn’t expect contractors, truckers or ship operators to make changes on their own.
The agency has been monitoring how the Port of Los Angeles and Port of Long Beach in California have reacted to pollution by instituting phased-in truck bans where older trucks are denied access to the ports.
To prevent such a ban from occurring at the Port of Virginia, the authority is offering incentives through its “Green Operator” program established in 2009 in partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency and state Department of Environmental Quality.
The program offers truckers, who are mostly independent owners and operators, a $20,000 rebate to purchase a cleaner-burning 2008 diesel truck if they scrap the old one. It works similar to the Cash for Clunkers program, she explained. Some truck dealers allow this incentive to serve as a down payment, she said, adding a 2008 truck costs about $55,000.
For drivers attached to their trucks, the program offers a $6,000 incentive to retrofit the diesel exhaust. As of last week, 375 trucks were retrofitted, she said. That leaves 2,100 more to go.
“I don’t ever want to get into a situation where there’s a truck ban,” Wood said.
Additionally, the port authority has been pushing the use of rail and barges as a way to move cargo inland to reduce pollution. Cargo from the port is moved 32 percent by rail, 4 percent by barge and 64 percent by trucks.
Last year, 8,000 cargo containers traveled to the Port of Richmond by barge service. From January to March this year, 7,000 containers were already moved that way, she said. The tugboats moving the barges burn a cleaner, ultra-low sulfur fuel.
Even so, the largest source of particulate matter air pollution at the port is idling ships unloading and loading cargo, Wood said. The port offers a program that offers a $300,000 incentive for ships to switch to cleaner diesel fuel now before 2015 international requirements take effect, according to the port authority website.
But not everything the agency tried to reduce pollution worked.
A hyrbid locomotive bought with an EPA grant couldn’t handle the workload of moving freight and overheated, she said. Designed to work like a Toyota Prius, the locomotive never ran 30 consecutive days the two years the port had it.
The port authority tried to switch all equipment fuel to a cleaner-burning biodiesel blend, but it couldn’t get it delivered already blended to its facilities, Wood said. To get a 20 percent blend, port workers would have to mix the fuel in a tanker, which wasn’t safe or cost-effective.
“We just couldn’t get it,” Wood said, adding it was effective and the port would like to pick it back up.
Source: Tidewater Biz
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