Voluntary Clean Truck Programs Reduce Emissions At Ports, But Fall Short Of Clean Air Goals

Voluntary truck replacement programs at ports are a common means of improving local air quality without imposing strict restrictions.  However, new research shows that these voluntary programs, while a critical component of a comprehensive clean air plan for ports, are limited in their overall effectiveness, especially when considered in the context of mandatory programs.  A new peer-reviewed study by Environmental Defense Fund, “Emissions reduction analysis of voluntary clean truck programs at U.S. ports”, will be published in the July issue of Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment.  The study, authored by Elena Craft, PhD and me, demonstrates that voluntary programs only reduce emissions by one to four percent compared to a baseline of truck emissions before program implementation.  Furthermore, the potential emission reductions are limited to 15 percent for particulate matter (PM) and 35 percent for nitrous oxides (NOx), two pollutants linked to serious health risks.  This means that, under current program guidelines, only a fraction of total truck emissions could be reduced through voluntary replacements.  These findings are striking given the accomplishments noted at ports that have implemented more rigorous programs, such as the Port of Los Angeles Clean Truck Program, which set a progressive ban on older, more polluting trucks, ultimately requiring the use of clean trucks that meet the 2007 emissions standards.

This is a critical environmental and public health issue.  Short-haul drayage trucks have been found to contribute substantially to port area air pollution, and there is broad consensus from communities, cargo owners, transportation providers, and ports that older trucks need to be retrofitted or retired in order to reduce the public health risk from emissions associated with freight transportation.

In 2009, EDF announced a partnership with the Houston-Galveston Area Council and the Port of Houston to replace older, polluting trucks with new, cleaner models.  The outcome of this partnership resulted in the best incentive program in the country for owner-operator truck drivers.  The Drayage Loan Program combined federal and state grants to provide drivers with low-interest loans and high value grants to trade in their truck.  While voluntary programs, such as the one at the Port of Houston, have helped build stakeholder support and drive progress toward cleaner air, the limited capability of voluntary programs, as demonstrated by this study, highlights the need for stronger actions on behalf of all partners.  This is especially true for Houston, as emissions from trucks operating at the port are estimated to amount to approximately half of all emissions within the port’s 2015 projected emissions inventory. 

The ports that have enacted voluntary truck programs should be applauded; they trail blazed the path toward clean air with an important step and truckers started upgrading to newer, cleaner truck models.  But now is the time to do more and these early successes should be the force for driving greater environmental improvement.  We have the knowledge base, the partnerships and the resources to implement more rigorous truck programs and emission reduction initiatives.

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  1. Erick Notlob
    Posted May 16, 2013 at 8:47 AM | Permalink

    I think the EDF is over reaching. The volunteer program, as you say, is “the best incentive program in the country”. When you compare the environmental impact of voluntary versus mandatory, you may have removed some of the logic. For instance, the mandatory laws saw a loss of work at those ports. That transition resulted in a gain of work in others. Could it be that Houston has to deal with other Ports bad decisions that put several people out of work and caused a migration to Houston?

    Why do you hate hard working people

  2. Marcelo Norsworthy Marcelo Norsworthy
    Posted May 16, 2013 at 12:37 PM | Permalink

    Thank you for your comment. I appreciate your concerns over employment and recognize that this is a sensitive issue. Everybody should have the right to clean air and a safe and healthy work environment – they shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. At EDF, we believe that it is good for business to have a healthy and stable workforce. There are many reports demonstrating that those who operate diesel equipment (like truck drivers) are at increased risks for health impacts such as cancer from the diesel emissions. As many shippers now require newer equipment be used to deliver their freight, we are working hard to make sure that port truck drivers, which often face financial difficulty in making an expensive long-term capital investment, have the ability to purchase newer equipment and increase their job security. From a financial perspective, Houston offers the best incentive of all existing voluntary clean truck programs because of the fact that the program leverages both state and federal funds. Clean truck programs are an important tool in addressing the air quality challenges that port cities face and we know that, in partnership with diverse stakeholders, we can achieve both a robust employment environment and reduced emissions for drivers and the local community.