Texas Clean Air Matters

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. Read More »

Also posted in Air Pollution, Environment, Goods Movement, Houston, Ports, Transportation / Read 4 Responses

EDF Highlights Clean Ports Progress – Starting with Houston

This week, the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) hosted the Energy and Environment Seminar in Chicago, an important event for environmental advocacy efforts with ports across the country. And Houston will take center stage in the ports world this November when the city hosts the AAPA annual meeting in conjunction with the Houston Ship Channel’s 100th anniversary.

EDF participated in this important seminar and discussed how ports can engage effectively with environmental groups to address environmental concerns. Our presentation focused on the “value add” that environmental organizations can provide to ports, specifically in three key areas:

  • research
  • grants & technology advancement
  • policy development

Some of the panels at this seminar included: Read More »

Also posted in Air Pollution, Houston, Ports, Transportation / Comments are closed

EDF Works With Stakeholders To Develop Recognition Program For Top Performing Ports/Terminals

Last October, Environmental Defense Fund co-hosted a workshop with the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) on performance metrics at ports. On Thursday, January 17, a group of thought leaders from the October workshop gathered to memorialize the workshop and discuss how those metrics might be used to highlight top performing ports with regard to environmental performance. The meeting specifically focused on air pollution as related to the movement of containers at large ports.

The diverse set of participants represented some of the nation’s largest ports, including Port of Long Beach, Port of Seattle, Virginia Ports Authority, Port of Houston Authority, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Jacksonville Port Authority as well as the Environmental Protection Agency, AAPA, and the Coalition for Responsible Transportation. Discussion ranged from typical terminal performance metrics currently in place at ports to cutting edge environmental initiatives that are underway as well as considerations on how to be inclusive of differences in port size and management/operational structures.

As the collaborative process of developing a recognition program for top performing ports and terminals moves forward, EDF and other stakeholders will be reaching out to additional constituencies to ensure that the group develops an environmental performance toolkit that balances local needs and circumstances while addressing industry-wide challenges. We envision that the performance metric toolkit will encompass a variety of modes and sectors of activity at ports, including ships, heavy-duty trucks, cargo handling equipment, rail, and harbor craft. Many ports currently have programs that mitigate emissions from these sectors and the toolkit is anticipated to serve as a foundation for highlighting top environmental performers in the field.

As supply chain sustainability becomes a more visible concern, federal health-based air quality standards are strengthened, and the Panama Canal expansion presents new opportunities for the shipping industry, we expect that the effort to establish environmental performance metrics will help drive efficiency and environmental improvements at ports. Together, with our stakeholders, we look forward to continuing the dialogue and building an effective tool for port sustainability and environmental recognition.

Also posted in Ports, Transportation / Comments are closed

Panama Canal Expansion May Yield Significant Emission Implications For Shippers, Carriers And Port Authorities

The current expansion of the Panama Canal, expected to be completed by early 2015, creates tremendous opportunities for the global freight transportation industry and may have significant effects on many ports in the United States, particularly in Houston and other Gulf areas. Today, I am happy to announce the publication of a peer-reviewed paper that analyzes the environmental implications of potential changes in container shipping as a result of the expansion. “Panama Canal Expansion: Emission Changes from Possible U.S. West Coast Modal Shift,” is featured in a special issue of the journal Carbon Management. This paper, a collaboration by researchers at the University of Delaware, Rochester Institute of Technology, and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), estimates changes in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and regional criteria pollutant emissions such as nitrogen oxides and particulate matter.

Our study found that using larger, more efficient container ships instead of the traditional truck/rail overland network for East Coast-bound cargo may not necessarily offset the increase in carbon emissions resulting from a longer waterborne distance traveled. Although the carbon effects may be negligible, localized air pollution is anticipated to rise in ports with projected growth in cargo volume. This includes the emissions of criteria pollutants that increase the risk for health impacts, such as asthma and lung disease. Ports located in federal nonattainment areas, such as the Port of Houston, could be faced with additional traffic from the Panama Canal expansion that creates further air quality concerns (see our previous post on this issue). Although some ports, shippers and carriers are working to improve their environmental performance, more needs to be done to ensure we leverage the opportunities from an enhanced Panama Canal.

Air pollution concerns are even more relevant now for Houston now that the U.S. EPA has strengthened the annual particulate matter (PM) standard to 12 micrograms per cubic meter. This change, projected to save thousands of lives, reinforces the need to understand future emissions scenarios and strategically improve air quality.

As our paper illustrates, short sea shipping may be one way to alleviate traffic and pollutant emissions along the East and Gulf Coasts. As the shipping sector evolves following the Canal expansion, we are researching the impact of short sea shipping and other strategies to understand how they might mitigate some greenhouse gas and criteria emissions as well as increase reliability, network optimization and time of delivery.

As carriers and shippers look to reduce their environmental footprint, our report demonstrates that a systems approach must be taken to fully understand the effects of route selection, modes and distribution networks. An intermodal strategy can best take advantage of infrastructure developments such as the Canal expansion, provided that we carefully consider all of the costs and benefits. We continue to evaluate the impact of an expanded Panama Canal for the Houston region, and are working tirelessly to ensure that any growth is smart growth.

Also posted in Air Pollution, Houston, Ports, Transportation / Comments are closed

Texas Sunset Commission Identifies Major Opportunities for Improvement At The Port Of Houston

In a much-anticipated report on the management of the Port of Houston Authority (PHA), the Sunset Commission, as directed by the Texas legislature, identified several opportunities to improve aspects of port management, including accountability and stakeholder trust.

Credit: Air Alliance Houston

Released on August 3, the 95-page report includes a series of recommendations for improvement in a number of basic management and fiduciary areas at the port. [Note: The Authority has until August 17 to respond and final comments will be submitted during a public hearing on September 5.]

While the report reaffirms the Authority’s ongoing “responsibility as a government agency,” it also highlights a pervasive “lack of accountability.” Understanding that the port is a unique institution, PHA is criticized in the report for not following a number of best practices in either the private or public sector.

One example of the port not following best management practices includes a controversial development fund, which was “modeled after the way private businesses operated” at the time of its inception in 1949. Today, “the Authority does not set spending limits for travel or entertainment” even though many companies and other organizations enforce stricter controls on such expenditures. This issue highlights PHA’s complex role of straddling public sector responsibilities with private sector expectations.

The report also identifies that public stakeholder trust in the Authority has steadily eroded, and finds that PHA “lacks a proactive public engagement strategy” to rebuild that trust. While community relationships are identified as critical to advancing PHA’s mission, the report suggests that current efforts are not enough to meet the needs of concerned citizens or the port itself. PHA’s handling of the failed cruise terminal and the current Bayport expansion are explicitly cited as two instances of public outreach efforts overall characterized as “reactive”. Transparency at the Authority was mentioned as a key issue for many stakeholders and will become increasingly important as the port seeks to expand due to projected increases in container throughput and the Panama Canal expansion.

As EDF continues to work in partnership with PHA to reduce emissions from oceangoing vessels, trains, cargo handling equipment, and port trucks and improve Houston air quality, we are encouraged by this report’s findings and recommendations. Residential areas immediately neighboring port facilities, commonly known as fenceline communities, bear many of the public health impacts of port activities. The reforms recommended in this report will help amplify their voice and ensure that stewardship of public goods, including air, water, land, and funds, become factors in port decision-making. These reforms will also make PHA stronger and better equipped to handle the inevitable diverse pressures over the next several years.

Also posted in Houston, Ports / Comments are closed

USACE Releases Report On U.S. Port And Inland Waterways Modernization To Prepare For Panama Canal Expansion

(Credit: www.britannica.com)

On June 20, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) submitted a vision and strategy document to Congress for the development of port and inland waterway infrastructure related to Panama Canal expansion. Expected to be completed in late 2014 or early 2015, the expansion will double the capacity of the Canal by allowing larger container ships to travel through the channel. U.S. ports seek to capture much of that traffic and are engaged in numerous projects to increase their capacity, primarily by dredging (the removal of sediment from a waterway) the areas leading to their terminals.

The Panama Canal expansion, U.S. port modernization and subsequent expected rise in container volumes at U.S. ports may have adverse environmental effects if proactive mitigation steps are not undertaken. With respect to air pollution, many ports are located in areas already burdened by unhealthy air and the potential rise in emissions from increased traffic would further deteriorate local air quality. EDF has worked with a number of ports on air quality mitigation programs and the USACE report indicates that further measures may be needed to ensure the well-being of the local population and environment.

Key findings from the USACE report include:

  • The southern and southeastern portions of the country are the fastest-growing region in the nation and demand for goods from these areas will drive local demand for transportation services.
  • Infrastructure development effects on air pollution, land use, water quality, species conservation and environmental justice will “play an important role in modernization decisions.” Mitigation programs will help alleviate environmental risk.
  • Limited federal and state funding requires the development of innovating financing to fully fund the port and inland waterway transportation network. Not all modernization projects will be fully funded and the prioritization decision-making process will be influenced by a variety of factors.
  • There is great uncertainty over the exact routing, throughput, timing, and trade pattern effects that the expansion will have on each particular port. This uncertainty complicates any funding prioritization strategy.

EDF submitted comments to drafts of the USACE report regarding the environmental factors that should be considered for the port expansion projects. These comments included:

  • The need for a comprehensive port environmental policy evaluation system based on transparent and scientifically rigorous data.
  • The localized public health effects due to port activities that further burden environmental justice communities.
  • Ongoing congestion at many ports and the environmental impacts that result from these inefficiencies.

As ports add infrastructure to handle expected growth in trade and container volumes, we will work to ensure that port modernization supports economic prosperity, public health and environmental quality. An efficient and sustainable transportation system removes barriers to commerce by providing a low-cost and reliable service. Many environmental goals also result in freight movement efficiency gains and there is tremendous opportunity to make sure that the U.S. response to Panama Canal expansion benefits both the economy and clean air.

Also posted in Air Pollution, Ports / Read 1 Response