The need to foster cleaner emissions among U.S. ports and coastlines is gathering momentum, but certain lessons lie in the reactions of major participants.

The head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), under pressure by a federal court order to issue regulations to reduce emissions from oceangoing ships, today indicated that the United States and Canada have applied to the International Maritime Organization to create a 230 mile emissions control area around much of their respective nation’s ports. This move paves the way for new emission standards for large commercial ships entering these ports.

The proposal calls for ships entering the proposed controlled maritime zones to face stricter limits on the sulfur content of their fuel beginning in 2015, and new ships would be required to incorporate advanced emission-control technologies beginning in 2016. In a gesture of joint co-operation, the president of the World Shipping Council, a Washington DC based trade organization representing international container ship operators, indicated that operators have participated in discussions regarding these proposed emission standards, and are not opposed to tighter standards.

In a somewhat related initiative concerning air quality of major ports, The Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners, in its Clean Trucks Program launched in October 2008, has been attempting to provide incentives to port truckers to quickly acquire cleaner running rigs that can operate within the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. On February 18, 2009, the port initiated certain fees per ocean container, namely $35 for a twenty-foot container, and $70 for larger containers, to help private truck owners with the financial assistance to secure cleaner rigs. However, importers and exporters who select truckers who have already acquired cleaner emissions vehicles are not required to pay this new fee.

This Clean Trucks program was recently handed a legal setback by an injunction ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The challenge came from the Intermodal Motor Carriers Conference, an affiliate of the American Trucking Association (ASA), based on an argument that the program would extensively alter economic regulation and result in irreparable harm to the motor carrier industry.  It seems that truckers, in their legal actions, are more interested in competitive harm and impacts to competition, if cleaner rigs are favored over older rigs that tend to pollute more.

It is interesting to note that the ocean container carriers, who operate across many world ports, and who are also feeling the severe economic impacts of dramatic declines in shipping, are willing to accept the need for greener ships.  They should be given our applause. In contrast, the ATA argues that the economics of declined volumes are no time to implement incentives for cleaner trucks. Seems to me that the ATA should look to the future, since pollution standards and low-sulfur diesel fuel are already the realities for future commerce.  The argument that $35, or even $70 more per container is cost prohibitive holds small creditability, given the history of last summer when fuel surcharges surpassed these levels.

Green is the new reality, and the more we have joint government and industry cooperation toward reasonable progress, the better off we all will be as citizens of the globe.  Let’s embrace initiatives that can work for all involved.

 What’s your view?

 Bob Ferrari