Selected category: Goods Movement

Panama Canal Expansion – Panacea or Problem for Ports in Texas?

Panama Canal -- Photo by Antonio Zugaldia, from Flikr

Panama Canal — Photo by Antonio Zugaldia, from Flikr

Everything is bigger in Texas, they say. Now, with the expansion of the Panama Canal this summer, we may start to see bigger ships in some Texas ports, too. These bigger ships would represent more business for Texas, but there could be a downside. Since these ships have huge engines that emit dangerous pollutants, we could see – and breathe – dirtier air. That’s why it’s so important for us to carefully manage these changes.

In late June, the first post-Panamax ship traveled through the newly-expanded Panama Canal, signaling a new era for mega-containerships and other super-sized vessels that can carry up to three times as much cargo as before. (“Panamax” was the term for the Panama Canal Authority’s size limit for ships traveling through the canal, The new mega-ships are sometimes called “Neopanamax” vessels.)

The expansion of the Panama Canal means that the near monopoly held by west coast ports, like the Ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach and others, on container trade from Asia may be ending. Instead of offloading cargo in southern California and relying on trains and trucks to transport goods to inland regions in the U.S., shippers will now be able to offload containers from Asia at U.S. ports on the Gulf or East Coast — taking advantage of potentially lower shipping costs and improved economies of scale.

Potential Diversion of Cargo from the West Coast to Texas

No post-Panamax vessel has called at a Texas port via the Panama Canal — yet.

But Texas ports stand to benefit if shippers moving goods from Asia decide to divert cargo from the U.S. West Coast through the newly-expanded canal.

Besides being geographically closer to Asia than East Coast ports (such as Savannah, Charleston, Norfolk, and New York),Texas is home to four major metropolitan areas experiencing rapid growth Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio, and Austin. These fast-growing cities help to support strong demand for consumer goods, many of which come from Asia.

Texas is also a powerhouse in the oil and gas industry. Houston is the petrochemical capital of the country, as well as home to several major active oil and natural gas fields. Exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) could also attract larger vessels — of the nearly 70 Neopanamax vessels transiting the expanded Panama Canal since June, two were LNG carriers, and 24 were liquefied petroleum gas carriers.

Why Big Ships Could Mean Bigger Problems for Texas’ Air Quality

Texas is home to 18 ports along the Gulf Coast. Seven Texas ports are ranked in the top 50 nationally for total tonnage, according to the US Department of Transportation:

  • Port of Houston
  • Port of Beaumont
  • Port of Corpus Christi
  • Port of Texas City
  • Port Arthur
  • Port Freeport
  • Port of Matagorda/Point Comfort.

Most of these ports face air quality challenges, and are located in regions that have not been able to meet health-based air pollution standards for ground-level ozone (also known as smog).

Newer mega-containerships have been designed to carry two to three times as many containers as those built to travel through the Panama Canal before its expansion (the “Panamax” vessels). Since engine power does not have to scale up at the same rate as cargo capacity, they use engines that are only ten percent larger.

Because the size of an engine has a direct impact on emissions, the expectation is that, all things being equal, these ships would increase emissions by ten percent over conventional “Panamax” ships – but would carry up to 300 percent more cargo (so fewer ships would be needed). Newer ships are also required to meet International Maritime Organization requirements that limit emissions from ship exhaust, so newer ships typically have cleaner engines.

If these newer ships are able to carry more cargo and have newer engines that are cleaner, then why should we be worried about their impact on air quality in Texas?

It’s because ship emissions are the largest source of pollution at ports, and emissions from increased ship traffic at Texas ports could negatively impact the air we breathe.

Emissions from ships come from the large propulsion engines used for transiting and maneuvering, as well as auxiliary engines for hoteling while the ship is at dock. Emission inventories commonly show more than half of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter emissions at ports coming from ocean-going vessels, with the remaining emissions shared among cargo-handling equipment, drayage trucks, locomotives, and harbor vessels.

This means that if either more ships come to call or ships stay longer, we could see deterioration in air quality from more emissions of harmful pollutants in Texas. Either of the following scenarios could happen:

  1. Bigger ships take more time to load and unload, which can increase emissions of ships hoteling, as well as cargo-handling equipment and other sources, if landside operations are not able to handle the increased cargo volume. This can also contribute to congestion issues.
  2. Bigger ships may offload cargo to smaller ships (also called “transshipment”) at Texas ports, meaning we could see a higher volume of ships because of the additional cargo being transported. Moreover, these smaller ships may not be newer, cleaner-emitting ships.

More Solutions Available to Address Ship Emissions

The good news is that today, ports in Texas have more options to address ship emissions than they did in the past.

In addition to shorepower systems, which allow ships to “plug-in” to the electrical grid instead of running engines while at dock, there are now two emissions capture technologies that show some promise for capturing emissions of pollutants that are harmful to human health. These emission capture technologies operate by containing many of the emissions that directly affect human health (like nitrogen oxides and particulates) at the smokestack of a vessel while it continues to run its engines. This is a compromise, however, since fuel continues to be burned to run the vessel’s engines, so climate-polluting greenhouse gas pollution continues to be emitted.

Ten years ago there were few if any options for addressing ship emissions. Today, shorepower installations have been deployed (or planned) at ports and marine terminals around the country (including throughout California, Seattle/Tacoma, Halifax, and the planned installation at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal at the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey), and new demonstrations of emissions capture technologies are being conducted.

Texas stands to benefit economically from the Panama Canal expansion, but these benefits should not happen at the cost of breathing clean air. EDF has called on lawmakers, as well as Texas ports, to make clean air projects a priority before, and we’ll continue to work to move these efforts forward.

In future blogs, we will share more about these promising technologies and how investments in these technologies could help reduce ship emissions at and around ports in Texas.

Also posted in Air Pollution, Environment, Houston, Panama Canal, Ports, Transportation| Read 4 Responses

Walking the Walk: Companies Lead the Call for New Clean Truck Standards

trucks flickrAs readers of this blog will know, Texas often prides itself on being a great place to do business. As you will see below, business can also have an important voice in keeping Texas (and the U.S.) a great place to live.

This post, originally published on the EDF+Business blog, is from our colleague Tom Murray, VP, Corporate Partnerships Program who notes that leading companies recognize the business value of clean trucks, for business, for health, and for the planet. We wanted to share this post with Texas Clean Air Matters because of its relevance to the Lone Star State. Our state stands to benefit significantly from the new rules, especially since truck freight in Texas is forecast to grow 120 percent by 2040.  

— The EDF Texas Clean Air Matters Team

A number of America’s most iconic brands helped pave the way for the new Clean Truck standards announced August 16th by the U.S. EPA and DOT. Nearly 400 companies, large and small, publicly urged strong, final fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards for heavy trucks.

Through their action, these companies have reaffirmed a basic truth of business today: to be a “leader”, companies must align their sustainability goals and strategies with their external engagement on policy. Read More »

Also posted in Clean Car Standards, Transportation| Tagged | Comments are closed

Fostering Growth while Reducing Port Emissions: Important Steps on a Clean Air Journey

tugs-353422_640 pixabayGrowth at the Port of Houston Authority (PHA) is staggering – an estimated 8,500 ships will visit the Houston Ship Channel this year and cargo traffic at the port has increased by over 20 percent compared to last year. That’s after a record-breaking year in 2014. Many worry about how much pollution the additional traffic may bring to the area. After all, diesel emissions from transportation activity at the port are already a contributor to localized air pollution.

But at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), we know that business growth and improved quality of life issues can go hand in hand. This summer, Richardson Companies (Richardson) – a stevedoring, warehousing, trucking, and barge company that is one of the largest tenants at the Port of Houston – participated in EDF’s Climate Corps Fellowship Program. This program matches specially trained graduate students with leading organizations to strategize scalable solutions for energy management. On average, over $1 million in energy savings are identified for each host organization. With the help of their graduate fellow, Keegan Hartman, Richardson learned how new transport service, emerging technology, and operational changes would enable them to accommodate increased demand for transport services as well as reduce emissions.

Through the strategies discussed below, Hartman calculated that Richardson could reduce supply chain carbon dioxide emissions by over 1,000 metric tons annually and also save approximately $1 million internally on annual fuel use – producing both environmental benefits for the community and economic rewards for the company. Read More »

Also posted in Houston, Ports| Tagged | Comments are closed

It’s Actually OUR Honor to be an EPA SmartWay Affiliate!

txcam pic 4.27.15

Cheryl Bynum, National Program Manager at US EPA, SmartWay, presents the 2015 Affiliate Challenge Honoree award to Environmental Defense Fund.

EDF has long been a champion of the SmartWay program, EPA’s highly successful public-private partnership between more than 3,000 organizations that are committed to improved fuel efficiency and environmental performance. So we were thrilled when EPA named us a 2015 Affiliate Challenge Honoree for our efforts to promote the program in our Green Freight Handbook.

We were recognized last week at the Transportation Intermediaries Association (TIA) conference, and we will participate in a virtual awards ceremony tomorrow. We have impressive company: the American Trucking Association, Penske, TIA, Wisconsin Clean Cities, and the North Central Texas Council of Governments were all named as honorees as well.

The program has helped facilitate positive results in many areas, perhaps most impressively in the goods movement sector. Read More »

Also posted in Environment, Transportation| Read 2 Responses

Texas, Remember to Start Your Green Freight Journey with EDF

Driver HandsakeCompanies don’t traverse the Green Freight Journey in one day. But there is one day next week where shippers can begin down the path by learning about the five-step framework for freight optimization projects. We first highlighted this webinar opportunity and how Texas is poised to gain from sustainable freight strategies last month, and now is the perfect time for companies to consider how they can take advantage of best practices and proven tools to reduce operating costs and greenhouse gas emissions.

Every company that uses the freight system to move products to market has the opportunity to embark on the Green Freight Journey. Join EDF on January 14 at 11am CST for a webinar that will introduce you to the Green Freight Journey framework, review real-world case examples, and highlight tools EDF is making available to help companies progress on their journey.

Read More »

Also posted in Transportation| Comments are closed

New Drayage Trucks – at Half the Price (and the Pollution)? It’s True!

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Source: flickr.com/photos/truckpr

Calling all heavy-duty truck owners who work at the Port of Houston! Cold, hard cash is available for the purchase of new trucks that are more fuel-efficient and cleaner-burning, providing up to 80 percent of the cost of a new truck.

The Houston-Galveston Area Council (HGAC) will be hosting a Drayage Truck Event at the Port of Houston on Saturday, November 1, from 10:00am to 1:30pm, to share information about available grants and loans in order to help owners replace older, dirtier vehicles with new, cleaner ones (see how others have taken advantage of these opportunities in the past).

Why is funding like this available to help someone pay for a new truck? By replacing an older truck with a new one, we all benefit from improved air quality. These benefits include:

  • better health, since cleaner air reduces the onset of asthma and cancer and helps avoid the loss of work and schooldays, and
  • economic advancement, as these programs help the state and city progress towards meeting critical air quality standards. Read More »
Also posted in Air Pollution, Drayage, Houston, Ports, Transportation| Read 2 Responses
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