It’s no secret that Long Beach, and Los Angeles, are home to the worst pollution nationwide.
Earlier this year, the American Lung Association found that the LA-Long Beach metropolitan area has the worst smog pollution in the nation — and among the worst pollution overall — using U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data from 2018 to 2020 to formulate air quality “report cards” for cities across the country.
A major contributor to that pollution: Greenhouse gas emissions from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, and the freeways that carry trucks to and from the San Pedro Bay complex — particularly the 710 Freeway.
To that end, Rep. Alan Lowenthal, a longtime representative of California’s 47th district — which, for now, includes Long Beach and its port, though redistricting has changed that — and a former Long Beach councilman, called for an end to ocean shipping pollution during a recent town hall he hosted with state environmental regulators.
“Since my earliest days of public service on the Long Beach City Council three decades ago, I have worked to clean up the maritime industry,” Lowenthal said at the Long Beach town hall. “We must all work together towards zeroing out pollution from all ocean shipping companies that do business with the U.S. for our children, our community, and our environment.”
The ports, for their part, have repeatedly acknowledged the role they play in contributing to pollution. They have worked to reduce emissions — with a joint goal of employing entirely zero-emission equipment by 2030 and a zero-emissions truck fleet by 2035 — and also spend money on projects in nearby neighborhoods to reduce impacts from their operations.
Long Beach’s recently enacted Climate Action Plan also includes provisions to reduce diesel heavy-duty truck emissions at the Port of Long Beach by 10% by 2030
Both ports, the two busiest in the nation, also recently joined the Shanghai-Los Angeles Green Shipping Corridor — a partnership among a coalition of cities, called c40, looking to combat climate change, ports, shipping companies and cargo owners — to create a the world’s first zero-emissions trans-Pacific trade route.
“The partnership intends to work together to achieve these goals by developing a ‘Green Shipping Corridor Implementation Plan’ by the end of 2022,” said a Long Beach port press release from earlier this year, “that will include deliverables, goals and interim milestones, and roles for participants.”
Those goals include a phase-in of zero-carbon fueled container ships by 2030.
The Pacific Maritime Association, which represents shippers, has also backed increasing automation at West Coast ports, authoring a report earlier this year that said doing so would benefit the environment. The local longshore union , currently in contract negotiations with PMA, disputed that report and has long said automation would reduce jobs on the docks.
But even with those efforts, Lowenthal said, progress is happening at too slow a pace — and vulnerable Long Beach residents have suffered with the impacts of pollution for long enough.
From 2020 to 2021, global shippers contributed 4.9% more greenhouse gas emissions than the years prior, according to shipping firm Simpson Spence & Young. Those emissions were higher than those reported in 2019, the firm said.
“I think right now the business model at both ports realize that you can have economic development, and in the same value, you can protect the environment and the neighborhoods around the ports,” Lowenthal said during the Wednesday, Aug. 31, town hall. “We have a long way to go to really fulfil that model — we’re still not there.”
In that vein, the congressman introduced the Clean Shipping Act of 2022 in the House of Representatives earlier this year.
That bill aims to completely eliminate port ship emissions by 2030, and would enact stringent regulations on fuel carbon intensity — or the rate of emissions relative to the industrial activity. The EPA, if the bill is enacted, would retain regulatory discretion to ensure a maximum reduction in carbon emissions by the target date.
California’s state environmental regulators, for their part, are also working to reduce climate change statewide.
Edie Chang, deputy executive officer of the California Air Resources Board, said the agency is “vigorously attacking every source of harmful pollution from the transportation of freight that impacts the health of port-adjacent communities.”
That includes, Chang said, requiring ships in California waters to use clean-burning fuel. And, when ships are loading and unloading, they’re required to shut off their engines and rely on electric power instead of diesel fuel. CARB has also proposed regulations that require transport trucks to undergo a rapid shift to zero-emissions. ‘
“And we are continuing to push for tougher federal new engine standards for locomotives to complement our proposed regulations to address sources of pollution like interstate locomotives that California must have in order clean the air,” Change said, “especially near port-adjacent communities that are already burdened by high levels of air pollution.”
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