Texas Clean Air Matters

Beyond The Headlines– Port Stakeholders Discuss Environmental Performance At Foreign Trade Conference

This week, I participated in a panel at the Georgia Foreign Trade Conference titled: “Beyond the Headlines – How the industry implements environmental improvements.” The panel represented some of the biggest powerhouses in the port industry talking about environmental performance and sustainability, including:

  • James Jack, Executive Director, Coalition for Responsible Transportation (CRT)
  • Dean Tracy, Director of Import Transportation, Lowe’s
  • Curtis Foltz, Executive Director, Georgia Ports Authority
  • Tony Chiarello, President and CEO, TOTE, Inc.
  • Rick Gabrielson, Senior Director, International Transportation, Target Corporation

Peter Tirschwell, Senior Vice President of Strategy, UBM Global Trade, Journal of Commerce, moderated the discussion.

Each of the speakers shared some new and exciting initiatives going on within their organizations. Some of the highlights included:

  • Information on the two new LNG containerships recently purchased by Tony’s company, TOTE. Scheduled to be operational on short hauls in US waters in 2014, the over 700 foot long containerships are expected to be the largest ships of any type in the world to be primarily powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG). This new technology was developed as part of an effort for short sea shippers to comply with the new fuel standards that have been adopted as part of the emission control area (ECA).
  • New environmental efforts underway at the Georgia Ports Authority include the first electric rubber tired gantry crane

    Georgia Foreign Trade Conference

  • Corporate sustainability initiatives underway at Lowe’s
  • Corporate sustainability initiatives underway at Target
  • The Coalition for Responsible Transportation, an industry association committed to supporting sustainability efforts at ports

I’d like to thank Georgia Ports Authority for the invitation to participate in this year’s conference, and for their leadership in incorporating environmental sustainability as part of their overall strategic plan. Recognizing and highlighting powerful players focused on sustainability and best practices in the industry is just plain good business.

Also posted in 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 Panama Canal, Transportation / Comments are closed

2012 Texas Air Quality: A Year In Review

As we come to the end of another year, we reflect on all that has happened in the world of Texas air quality. This year has brought new challenges and reminded us of how much remains to be done in the quest for healthier air across the state. Our work is critical to the millions of those who are especially vulnerable to the harms of air pollution.

I’d like to thank my fellow bloggers for another outstanding year in helping to highlight the air quality issues of 2012 and for the continued support of all of our readers.  We look forward to bringing you more news and views in 2013. Wishing you and your family a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released updated standards for fine particulate matter (PM2.5), often referred to as “soot” (although it actually comprises a broader array of fine particles). Fine particulate pollution in the air we breathe — some of it directly emitted from cars and trucks, some of it resulting from factories and electric power plants hundreds of miles upwind – can lodge in the lungs and cause a variety of respiratory and pulmonary disease, especially in children and seniors. EDF praised the move, which will help secure healthy air for millions of Americans, including those in Houston where existing soot levels already exceed the new limits.

The State of Texas and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) once again fight against clean air rules that will save Texans’ lives. This time, it was the first-ever standards limiting the amount of mercury and other toxics power plants could emit. The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) will ensure that 90 percent of the mercury content in coal burned by power plants is not released into our air. TCEQ, the Texas attorney general, and others challenged the standards in court, saying that the toxic pollutants covered by the mercury standards do not “pose public health hazards.” The reality is that power plants in the U.S. are a major source of many toxics such as mercury, arsenic, chromium, acid gas, and nickel. A report EDF released last year demonstrated that Texas had an oversized share of the top mercury emitting coal plants in the U.S. in 2009. We called on TCEQ and the state of Texas to stand up to harmful pollution instead of standing in the way of public health protections.

Clean school bus programs in Texas made significant progress toward improving air quality on our state’s school buses, though much work remains to be done according to an EDF analysis: “Review of Texas’ Clean School Bus Programs: How Far Have We Come and What Is Still Left to Do?” The report highlighted the efforts of state and regional programs in administering clean bus programs, and detailed the progress made with retrofits and replacements. With momentum from successes to date, the EDF report recommended that communities, ISDs, and government officials carry on the clean school bus momentum by continuing to seek funding for these types of projects; completing existing clean school bus projects; and investing in these projects through budget and legislative funding allocations. Again, work remains to be done to protect the health of Texas children and improve the air quality in and around school buses – until all of Texas’ oldest buses are either replaced or retrofitted.

Since 2009, the Drayage Loan Program (DLP) has worked to replace older, more polluting trucks in the Houston area with newer, cleaner trucks by providing critical funding and support to local independent owner operators and drayage fleets. The innovative program, administered by the Houston-Galveston Area Council and supported by the Port of Houston Authority, Environmental Defense Fund, and numerous drayage companies and truck dealerships, combines low-interest loans and substantial grants to fund the fleet turnover. The effort led to the successful replacement of 138 drayage trucks, engaged numerous drivers and carriers, and spent nearly the entire original EPA SmartWay grant. At full implementation, the program is expected to eliminate 1,638 tons of nitrogen oxide, 26.7 tons of particulate matter, and 3,636 tons of carbon dioxide. This represented an important step toward reducing air pollution in the Houston area.

With around 45,000 shale gas wells operating in the United States – triple the number in 2005 – people are rightfully concerned about the extent of the shale boom’s potential damage to the environment. The issue became the focal point of discussion during “Can Natural Gas Be Sustainable?,” a five-person panel presentation at the second annual SXSW Eco conference in Austin. As part of the panel, we discussed how stronger standards and employing best practices could minimize impacts of increased natural gas production in the wake of growing public concern about the health and environmental impacts of drilling. EDF continues to address the key problem areas associated with natural gas development: exposure to toxic chemicals and waste products; faulty well construction and design; climate impacts from methane leakage; local and regional air pollution; and land use and community impacts.

Clean air protections were threatened with a U.S. Court of Appeals decision against EPA’s cross-state air pollution rule (CSAPR). The rule estimated to reduce power plant emissions across state boundaries, saving up to 34,000 lives each year, preventing 15,000 heart attacks and 400,000 asthma attacks, and providing $120 to $280 billion in annual health benefits for the nation. Issued under the “Good Neighbor” protections of the Clean Air Act, CSAPR would have reduced power plant sulfur dioxide emissions by 73 percent and oxides of nitrogen by 54 percent from 2005 levels across 27 eastern states and the District of Columbia. The ruling changed little about the facts on the ground in Texas. That is, cross-state air pollution from Texas will still be regulated under the – albeit somewhat weaker – Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) adopted in 2005 during the Bush administration. Texas power plants must therefore comply with both the first phase of the CAIR that took effect in 2010 and the second-phase reductions that are required in 2015.

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. The 95-page report includes a series of recommendations for improvement in a number of basic management and fiduciary areas at the port. While the report reaffirmed the Authority’s ongoing “responsibility as a government agency,” it also highlighted 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. 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 were encouraged by this report’s findings and recommendations. These reforms will also make PHA stronger and better equipped to handle the inevitable diverse pressures over the next several years.

The potential health impacts to workers who daily toil in and around the hundreds of drilling sites were highlighted in a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Hazard Alert, identifying exposure to airborne silica as a health hazard to workers conducting hydraulic fracturing operations during recent field studies. NIOSH is working to identify other potential health risks at drilling sites, acknowledging that there is a real lack of information on occupational dust and chemical exposures in this industry. However, silica is just one of several chemicals used during the hydraulic fracturing process that can pose hazards at well sites, according to State Impact.

Thanks to a federal appeals court decision, EPA’s health-based air quality standards for sulfur dioxide (SO2) will stand firm. These National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for SO2 will improve health protections, especially for children, the elderly and individuals with asthma. EDF Attorney Peter Zalzal praised the decision saying it “strongly affirms that EPA’s clean air protections addressing dangerous sulfur dioxide are firmly grounded in science and the law.”

The annual Texas smog season – April through October – appeared in full swing this year with numerous counties around the state exceeding health-based ozone concentrations many times since March. Ozone-forming pollution is emitted by cars, refineries and various industrial plants.  As more Texans began to see shale gas drilling rigs pop up around them, many asked the question: Could emissions from natural gas and oil operations significantly contribute to ground-level ozone? The answer was an unequivocal yes.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued a unanimous opinion affirming EPA’s protective carbon pollution standards issued under the Clean Air Act.  The Court upheld EPA’s science-based finding that greenhouse gas emissions endanger public health and welfare and the Clean Car Standards. The court also dismissed petitions challenging the requirement for large industrial sources to install modern cost-effective solutions to address greenhouse gases and EPA’s common sense approach to inoculate small sources. Today’s ruling underscored what we have long known — that EPA’s climate protections are firmly grounded in science and law and will help secure a healthier, more prosperous future for all Americans.

Though the cancer risks from exposure to diesel emissions have been known for many years, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a part of the World Health Organization (WHO), officially announced that diesel emissions were carcinogenic to humans. The agency cited the robust body of scientific literature on the issue and stated that diesel emissions were associated with lung cancer and bladder cancer. WHO estimates that cancer kills 7.6 million people worldwide, and is the leading cause of death globally in 2008. Of all cancers, lung cancer is the most lethal, and accounted for 18 percent of all cancer deaths, the agency said.

EPA released a new online tool which provides data about pollution emissions for the country’s largest industrial emitters of greenhouse gases. Together, these industry sources are responsible for billions of tons of climate disrupting pollution. This will be the first time that this data is publicly available and will inform Americans about the heat-trapping greenhouse gases emitted in their communities. EDF attorney Peter Zalzal summed up our enthusiasm for this new tool: “Americans have a right to know about the pollution in their air. This greenhouse gas emissions data promotes transparency and provides a strong foundation for Americans to work together in deploying smart climate policies.”

Also posted in Air Pollution, Clean Air Act, Clean school buses, Environmental Protection Agency, Houston, Natural gas, Particulate Matter, TCEQ / 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, Panama Canal, Transportation / Comments are closed

International Dialogue Highlights Global Opportunities for Supply Chain Sustainability

Complete supply chains are inherently international and logistics decisions made in Bentonville, Arkansas can have impacts in ports such as Callao, Peru just as carrier choices made in Santiago, Chile may affect operations in Houston, Texas. While these complexities present challenges to the transportation and logistics sectors, they are also opportunities to collaborate across regions, companies, and industries. Much of the work required to improve air quality in transportation hot spots and drive efficiency gains in routing and distribution networks involves myriad actors. Of course, carbon accounting and technology adaptation are practices that are not limited to the U.S. and there is growing international interest in making supply chains more sustainable.

An example of new opportunities to engage more broadly on supply chain sustainability comes from last month’s Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) Annual Conference. I met a representative from the Buenos Aires-based radio program “Hablemos de Logística” and we discussed trade growth in Latin America, environmental challenges facing the region, industry views on supply chain sustainability, and EDF’s vision and goals for regional efforts on transportation and logistics environmental programs. This interview (in Spanish), which aired on the October 23rd broadcast of “Hablemos de Logística,” captures some of our discussion. The radio program’s media group also includes Foro Logística, an event-based group that hosted the 4th Forum on Sustainability and the Supply Chain on November 6 in Buenos Aires. While the media group focuses on all aspects of supply chain and logistics topics, they understand the growing role that sustainability will play in this sector.

As EDF helps bring sound science and market-based economics to solving some of the world’s greatest environmental challenges, we are regularly looking for new partners and new opportunities. The global nature of supply chains and growing international awareness of transportation-related environmental concerns means there is better availability to work with diverse stakeholders on supply chain sustainability. This work translates to carbon reductions and air quality improvements for numerous regions as sustainability practices (such as those highlighted by my colleague Elena Craft) become more fully integrated in global supply chains.

La logística es internacional por su naturaleza y el interés en la sustentabilidad de la supply chain va creciendo cada año en América Latina. EDF se ha dedicado a solucionar temas de la huella de carbono, la eficiencia en transporte de carga y la contaminación del aire con varios socios del sector comercial, transportación y público. En la conferencia de CSCMP tuvimos la oportunidad de conversar con Fabio Contino, Director de “Hablemos de logística” un programa de radio basado en Buenos Aires. Hablamos sobre  los desafíos medioambientales en la región, el rol de sustentabilidad en la supply chain y la visión de EDF para una logística más eficiente y sustentable. La entrevista fue emitida en el programa del 23 de octubre y también online. EDF espera avanzar estos temas en América Latina y trabajar con autoridades portuarias, el sector del transporte, coordinadores de logística y el sector comercial para realizar una supply chain más sustentable.


Also posted in Transportation / Comments are closed

Drayage Loan Program In Houston Begins New Chapter

Since 2009, the Drayage Loan Program (DLP) has worked to replace older, more polluting trucks in the Houston area with newer, cleaner trucks by providing critical funding and support to local independent owner operators and drayage fleets. (Drayage is a term used to mean the transport of goods over a short distance). The innovative program, administered by the Houston-Galveston Area Council (HGAC) and supported by the Port of Houston Authority, Environmental Defense Fund, and numerous drayage companies and truck dealerships, combines low-interest loans and substantial grants to fund the fleet turnover. This effort has led to the successful replacement of 138 drayage trucks, engaged numerous drivers and carriers, and has spent nearly the entire original EPA SmartWay grant. The DLP has also leveraged grants and other financial opportunities, including state TERP funding. At full implementation, the program is expected to eliminate 1,638 tons of nitrogen oxide, 26.7 tons of particulate matter, and 3,636 tons of carbon dioxide. This represents an important step toward reducing air pollution in the Houston area.

The end of this year, however, marks the official conclusion of the Drayage Loan Program based on the original EPA funding award. This means that any drivers, fleet managers, or others interested in the program should act as soon as possible by submitting an application to HGAC. While there is still sufficient loan and grant funding available, there is limited time to disburse those funds. An amended form of the program is expected to continue into next year, though there may be less funding available due to the conclusion of the original terms.

The DLP has achieved significant emissions reductions benefits for the Houston area and all of the project partners remain committed to work with community and industry stakeholders to bring healthier air to the Houston region. This program is a model of multi-sector partnerships and innovative financing opportunities that can serve to inspire similar efforts.

More information, including loan and grant application materials, may be found at HGAC’s DLP website.

Also posted in Drayage, Houston / Comments are closed