Air pollution rules that just got the green light from federal authorities could reduce some of the most harmful emissions at California ports, decreasing the cancer risk of more than 2 million people in Long Beach and around San Pedro Bay in the coming years.
California air quality regulators drafted the rules in 2020 and planned to phase them in starting in January, but they first needed approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
On Tuesday, the EPA announced that Administrator Michael Regan had signed the necessary waiver; the rules will go into effect 30 days after his decision is officially published.
“This is huge for the Long Beach area because shipping emission is the number one cancer-causing emission out of the ports,” said Teresa Bui, climate policy director for the nonprofit Pacific Environment.
A California Air Resources Board fact sheet on the new regulations says when fully implemented, the rules will “result in a 55 percent reduction in potential cancer risk for communities near the Ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach and Richmond.”
In a Monday letter urging the EPA to authorize California’s new rules, Sen. Alex Padilla and Rep. Nanette Barragan wrote that reduced emissions as a result of the rules are “estimated to prevent 237 premature deaths, 75 hospitalizations, and 122 emergency room visits from 2021 to 2032.”
The new rules broaden 2007 guidelines that required a percentage of certain types of vessels visiting the state’s biggest ports (including Los Angeles and Long Beach) to plug into on-shore power sources when docked, rather than burning fuels that emit diesel particulates and nitrogen oxides; the former is linked to lung cancer and the latter contributes to smog.
Once the new rules are in effect, all container, refrigerated and cruise ships will have to use shore power while at berth in most California ports. Starting in 2025, tankers and roll-on/roll-off vessels (which transport cars and other wheeled vehicles) that visit the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles will also be subject to emission controls, and ports and terminal operators now share responsibility for compliance with vessel operators.
In an emailed statement, Port of Long Beach Director of Environmental Planning Matt Arms said, “We support the control of emissions at berth from these new vessel categories but remain concerned about the rule’s timeline for compliance.”
Officials at the Port of Los Angeles did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. A spokesman for the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents West Coast shipping companies and terminal operators, declined to comment.
The twin ports have already taken strides toward reducing pollution from vessels and cargo handling equipment and vehicles.
In 2021, Port of Long Beach officials touted completion of the Long Beach Container Terminal at Middle Harbor, which is equipped to provide shore power and uses electric and near-zero emissions equipment.
The Port of Los Angeles was adding infrastructure for shore power as far back as 2014, and information on the port’s website indicates it was used on at least 90% of cruise ship and container vessel visits between January and August of this year.