Port of Los Angeles sustains net air pollution reduction during turbulent pandemic year
After an unprecedented year in which cargo plunged sharply in the first half only to come roaring back, the Port of Los Angeles finished 2020 with a net reduction in air pollution. The Port’s Inventory of Air Emissions for 2020 shows criteria pollutants fell slightly from 2019 levels, with diesel particulate matter (DPM) down 1%, nitrogen oxides (NOx) down 3% and sulfur oxides (SOx) down 1%.
Due to the pandemic, container trade through the Port dropped 19% for the first five months of 2020. In the third quarter, the pendulum swung in the opposite direction, boosting container volume more than 50% through the remainder of the year. The final months of 2020 marked the start of ships going to anchorage awaiting their berth assignments. By the end of the year, more than 9.2 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) moved through the Port – a slight drop from 2019, but still the fourth busiest year in Port history.
The annual inventory measures the progress of the Port’s strategies for reducing pollution from all sources related to its operations — ships, trucks, locomotives, harbor craft and cargo handling equipment – and compares the data with emissions levels from the previous year and 2005, the inventory’s baseline year. Port-related emissions are tracked across much of the South Coast Air Basin and surrounding coastal waters. Regional, state and federal air regulatory agencies review the annual report to ensure the Port’s methodologies are accurate.
“The tremendous drop in emissions during the first part of 2020 offset the increase at the end of the year,” said Port Director of Environmental Management Christopher Cannon. “The cargo surge has continued well into this year, so we expect to see an increase in emissions for calendar year 2021.”
Under normal conditions, very few ships wait at anchorage. However, a pandemic-induced consumer buying spree that began last summer and continues today has resulted in a record-level and sustained surge of imported goods through L.A. and other major ports worldwide. Under the Port’s standard protocol, at-anchorage emissions for all ships calling the Port are included in the emissions inventory.
Other pandemic-driven impacts reflected in the 2020 report include a reduction in liquid bulk (tanker) vessel calls tied to the decline in regional fuel consumption, a slowdown in bulk cargo, and the total shutdown of cruise operations beginning March 15, 2020. Likewise, emissions from harbor craft fell, due primarily to the lack of business for excursion and ferry boats.
The ongoing industry trend of fewer ship calls due to larger vessels carrying more cargo continued in 2020. The Port ended 2020 with 968 container ship calls —down 2% since 2019. Since 2005, container ships calls have dropped 35% and now average 88% more TEUs per vessel.
Compliance with mandatory and voluntary pollution control reduction programs remains high, which also drives down vessel emissions. The measures include switching to cleanest-available low-sulfur fuel; using incentives to attract the newest, cleanest ships to the Port; and plugging most container, refrigerated cargo and cruise ships into shoreside electrical power at berth.
Another positive trend is the ongoing turnover of the nearly 19,000 trucks registered to call at the Port. Today, 40% of the truck “drayage” fleet are 2014 or newer models, a sign that companies doing business at the Port continue to invest in the cleanest-available heavy-duty drayage trucks equipped with pollution control systems. The trend builds on the dramatic clean air gains from the Port’s Clean Truck Program, which eliminated all older, dirty pre-2007 trucks from the drayage fleet on Jan. 1, 2012. Any trucks new to Port service must be model year 2014 or newer.
Likewise, railroads and terminal operators continue to upgrade locomotives and cargo handling equipment with cleaner engines. Nearly 28% of the 1,915 pieces of cargo handling equipment at the Port — cranes, yard tractors and other off-road vehicles — run on electricity or alternative fuels.
The Port remains laser-focused on eliminating tailpipe emissions from cargo handling equipment by 2030 and drayage trucks by 2035. Both goals are essential to the Port’s larger goal of reducing port-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 and 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.
While the Port has made progress in reducing GHG emissions, the rate of reduction has fluctuated annually. For 2020, GHGs were down 12%. “The technology that reduces particulate matter and nitrogen oxides can sometimes increase greenhouse gases,” said Cannon. “This makes our zero emissions demonstration projects all the more critical because they reduce both criteria pollutants and greenhouse gas levels.”
The Port is either leading or participating in 16 regional projects with multiple partners to demonstrate low NOx and zero emissions trucks, yard tractors, forklifts and other equipment. The large-scale pilots include alternative fueling and charging infrastructure. The pandemic slowed some projects in 2020.
The Port has already achieved its 2023 CAAP goals for reducing emissions of DPM by 77%, NOx by 59% and SOx by 93%. The Port hit its DPM target in 2012 and its NOx target in 2017. The Port also met and exceeded its SOx reduction goal in 2014, its original milestone for the 93% target. The Port also continues to surpass its 2020 goal of reducing health risk from port-related operations by 85%, first achieved in 2014.
An analysis of the Port’s clean air gains on a per container basis shows emissions reduction measures are paying off as the cargo volumes grow. However, the ongoing cargo surge in 2021 has caused delays likely to upend some of the Port’s clean air progress.
“Operational efficiency benefits both business and the environment,” said Cannon. “The heavy volume of inbound cargo has led to disruptions across the supply chain, and those impacts will be reflected in next year’s inventory.”
To reduce the current backlog of cargo in marine terminals and ships at anchorage waiting for berth assignments, the Port and its industry partners launched Accelerate Cargo L.A. to proactively arrange for faster pickup of import containers by cargo owners participating in the program. After meeting last week with President Biden and top trade and transportation officials, the Port announced it is also working with cargo owners and supply chain service providers to operate 24/7 in an effort to restore the unimpeded flow of cargo.
North America’s leading seaport by container volume and cargo value, the Port of Los Angeles facilitated $259 billion in trade during 2020. San Pedro Bay port complex operations and commerce facilitate one in nine jobs across the counties of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura. The Port of Los Angeles has remained open with all terminals operational throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Source: The Port of Los Angeles