Port event in West Seattle touts regional progress in air-pollutant reduction, and what’s next

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

On a morning when rain was busily washing the air clean, the Port of Seattle hosted an event in West Seattle to talk about progress in reducing air pollutants related to maritime industry.

The occasion: The newest report from the Puget Sound Maritime Air Forum, described in the announcement as “a committee of seven ports, six government agencies, and three industrial partners” (most listed here). They first started tracking maritime-related emissions in 2005, and the report shows some major decreases.

To showcase the newest results of the every-five-years study – the Puget Sound Maritime Air Emissions Inventory – the port invited media to the Terminal 5 administration building to hear from reps of many participating organizations and to see examples of what’s being used to take less of a toll on the local air.

Those examples included semi-trucks powered with alternative fuel (top photo) and jars showing the dark heavy-oil fuel that’s declining in use, next to lighter fuel whose use is on the rise:

Opening the event, Seattle Port Commission president Courtney Gregoire described the report as “good news.”

She says it’s a “voluntary effort” that launched more than a decade ago. It “informs our strategy about future investments” among other things, and she says it is a reminder that “climate change is real.” This is the third inventory since 2005. The international standard for fuel has factored into it.

This is the first one that has tracked “black carbon” though it doesn’t remain in the atmosphere for long. And she says it shows good news though what they’re serving has grown, including the Seattle cruise boom. “It comes with a cost,” of course, she notes.

The port aims to be carbon-neutral or carbon-negative by 2050, Gregoire noted, adding, “This inventory … helps us understand the scale of that challenge … “we must keep our carbon reduction efforts front and center.” She mentioned the air-quality-challenged communities of Georgetown and South Park and promised to work with the community.

That’s the vital next step, said James Rasmussen, who leads the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition. He was there observing rather than speaking, but we asked him afterward what this all meant to his organization’s work. Increased port-related traffic – including what’s expected to result from Terminal 5 modernization, eventually – will mean more trucks, and they’re not all going to be newer, lower-emissions models, so other means of mitigation are vital. That can be as simple as more trees in somewhat low-greenery Georgetown, for example, he said.

Back to the presentations: Leaders from the Ports of Tacoma and Everett followed Gregoire to the podium. The acting CEO from the latter, Lisa Lefeber (filling in while permanent CEO Les Reardanz is deployed to the Middle East), said they’ve moved far past the old observation “the smell of smoke is the smell of money.”

She talked about Everett’s modernization efforts; after Gregoire returned to the podium, and invited questions, we asked what the new study meant to the plans for Terminal 5. She replied, “This is exactly the track record we want to build on – this is showing the science about why we want to make those investments.” (Environmental features of the modernization project have been front and center for neighbors in particular, seeking an even-stronger commitment to shore power than what was featured in the final environmental study of the project, unveiled a year and a half ago.)

The panel discussion followed, including reps from the EPA, Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, Sailors’ Union of the Pacific, Harley Marine Services, and Holland America Group (which includes not only that cruise line, but also Princess and Seabourn). Jim Peschel, from the cruise-line group, gave the global perspective, since his company’s ships sail around the world, and are dealing with a variety of pollution-reduction requirements. “You tell us what to do and we’ll do it, because we want to do the right thing.” He also said they appreciate being able to plug in – using shore power – at Seattle’s Piers 90/91 (56 percent of their calls last year were able to do that). And he said they’re working on other efficiencies, even a different type of paint for the bottom of hulls so they can glide more easily through the water.

Matt Godden from Harley, based in West Seattle, touted new tugboats that run on cleaner fuel and other investments in greener technology.

Capt. Mike Moore of the shipping association talked about the fuel savings resulting from larger ships – saying the biggest ones used to carry 5,280 container (equivalents), and now it’s four times that. Larger ships mean fewer calls, too – the port peaked in 1992 and has 992 fewer calls a year since then, he said. He too touted efficiencies, and put in a plug repeatedly for shipping being more efficient than transporting cargo by rail.

Vince O’Halloran from the maritime unions said they “greatly applaud … these efforts,” because they’re important to workers’ health, and ultimately will enable more investment in wages.

Amy Fowler of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency talked about the truck-replacement program that lasted for three years, as well as lauding tugboat operators for replacing/upgrading engines.

Tim Hamlin of the EPA noted that their data shows that “for every dollar spent (on cleaner engines) we get 21 dollars in health benefits.”

Powering ships with Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) came up a few times. O’Halloran said BC Ferries has converted its entire fleet and voiced concern about “not-in-my-backyard folks” opposing it. Peschel said his cruise lines are exploring using it.

And Fowler wrapped it up by reiterating that the “biggest priority going forward is using this information and involving community … using this data and science to make decisions, where does our strategy go next?” Adjacent communities are disproportionately affected by the emissions and other effects of “goods movement,” she reminded everyone, so “we’re going to want to engage directly with those communities and give them a voice.”

To see the numbers from the new emissions report, scroll down this summary (PDF).

1 Reply to "Port event in West Seattle touts regional progress in air-pollutant reduction, and what's next"

  • bolo March 23, 2018 (12:11 pm)

    “Jim Peschel, from the cruise-line group, gave the global perspective, since his company’s ships sail around the world, and are dealing with a variety of pollution-reduction requirements. ‘You tell us what to do and we’ll do it, because we want to do the right thing.'”

    What an uncommonly refreshing statement for a large polluting corporation to make! Hoping they honor it!

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