Now Playing:


Energy | Environment

How Northwest Ports Are Curbing Their Emissions

The Port of Seattle's Elliott Bay Terminal south of downtown has been part of the region's reduction of greenhouse gasses by ports.

The Port of Seattle’s Elliott Bay Terminal south of downtown has been part of the region’s reduction of greenhouse gasses by ports.

Don Wilson/Port of Seattle

Air pollution from the shipping ports in Puget Sound has decreased, according to a new report released today.

The report comes as ports throughout the Northwest are trying to increase the volume of cargo they handle while reducing the particulate and greenhouse gases that results from all those ships, trucks, planes and trains. The “Puget Sound Maritime Air Emissions Inventory” may sound like a pretty boring read but for people concerned about the environment, the news is good.

The 300-page report compared emissions of diesel particulates, greenhouse gases and other air pollutants in five Puget Sound ports from 2005 to 2011.

“If you were shipping cargo through the Puget Sound ports you would be emitting significantly less in 2011 than you would in 2005,” said Stephanie Jones-Stebbins, who manages environmental programs at the Port of Seattle.

The economic downturn does play a role in that decrease. The total amount of cargo has gone down by 1 percent since 2005. But Jones-Stebbins says that even with the slump, the emissions for each ton shipped have gone down.

When emissions are tallied up for each ton of cargo moved through the Puget Sound’s ports, diesel particulates dropped 34 percent and greenhouse gases decreased by 14 percent.

The report looked at all the port activities –- from trains, trucks and loading equipment on land to the giant ocean going cargo ships.

Ships produce almost 80 percent of port emissions. Over the past six years several of the ports have put in anti-idling requirements for large vessels. They’ve also asked them to use cleaner fuel and connect to on-shore power while they’re at berth.

Over the past six years the trucks coming in and out of the ports in Puget Sound have been newer, which is also a good thing for emissions. More stringent requirements will go into effect on trucks in the coming years.

The study looks at the four-county region of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. Andrew Green, the agency’s director of air quality programs, said the results of this study show where the ports and his agency are making progress –- and where they need to step up our efforts.

“Overall the takeaway message is that the investments of the maritime industry in cleaner fuels and cleaner technologies are resulting in cleaner air,” he said.

Ports’ Shrinking Carbon Footprint

Source: Port of Seattle

New regs will also require ships to use even lower-sulfur fuel. That’s good news for air quality and human health. Jones-Stebbins says the next challenge is lowering port green house gas emissions, which contribute to climate change.

“The further reductions are going to have to come from efficiencies, from using alternative fuels, so that’s where the future will need to go,” she says. “And hopefully these are things that will have a real business case as well because they will reduce cost for business as they have less fuel use and can be more efficient.”

Similar changes are underway at the Port of Portland’s four marine terminals and three airports. The port set a goal to reduce greenhouse gases by 15 percent from 1990 levels. Port officials gave themselves until 2020 to hit that goal, but ended up meeting that target in 2010, said Josh Thomas, a Port of Portland spokesman.

Unlike the Port of Seattle and similar operations on Puget Sound, the Port of Portland has not calculated its emissions to reflect its pollution and carbon burned per ton of cargo, Thomas said.

Like the ports on Puget Sound, the Port of Portland has been looking to a number of strategies. They also include reducing idling, cleaner-burning fuels and engines. The Oregon-based port also is increasing its use of renewable energy to electrify its buildings and other facilities. And it has offset its use of power from carbon-emitting sources by purchasing renewable energy credits.

More News

More OPB