It’s time to call a time out, take a step back, and re-evaluate the decisions made by both the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles regarding the imposition of what industry sees as an egregious container fee and subsequent reaction from interests within all corners of the environmental community and organized trucking. What was looked upon several months ago as a win for clean air and all the parties at the table has now turned into a clash of the titans with the independent truckers caught in the middle.
It appears from the onset that the whole purpose behind the imposition of a container fee for incoming and outgoing cargo containers was to use this new found revenue to fund the replacement of old and outdated diesel trucks and make infrastructure improvements labeled “highway and rail” to improve ingress and egress for trucks, trains, and ships alike. From a review of the adopted provisions of the container fee documents there appears to be a collage of highway and intersection improvements, bridge re-building, train goods movement improvements, and polluting truck replacement grants.
As well-intended as this huge effort appears on its surface, the greatest impediment to making “clean air port shipping history” is the lack of a working experience with the recent policy shift from less than cooperative relations and competition between the two ports to one that at least was directed toward a united front on the environment. Add to this the economic woes to the entire industry, with the increase in fuel costs, and we may have the making of the perfect storm for both Long Beach and Los Angeles—when not too long ago, these two ports seemed almost impenetrable to outside economic forces.
There is no question that diesel truck emissions play a major role as contributors to the region’s pollution problems, however, this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. No matter what type or age of truck that is on the road going into and out of these two ports, if the freeway infrastructure does not allow these vehicles to operate at maximum efficiency, pollutants from engines burning fossil fuel still enter the atmosphere and cause unacceptable nitrous oxide levels that send air quality experts into the stratosphere.
If a container fee becomes the rule of the day, wouldn’t it be a better use of these funds or at least a significant portion of them to funding the dedicated truck lanes outlined in the plans for the rebuild of the Interstate 710? The port of Los Angeles is already funding a diesel truck replacement program and if Long Beach can follow suit, perhaps over the long run, building a better transportation infrastructure could yield an even higher environmental dividend.
Additionally, our European friends have one up on our way of working their rail system network. This is the use of little to no diesel but rather a major commitment to goods and passenger movement using electricity to power transportation by rail throughout the continent. Perhaps it’s time to look more aggressively at hybrid locomotive technology and at the long run toward electrifying the trains running through the Alameda Corridor.
There is a big picture here. It is becoming apparent that many moving parts are still missing in a regional master plan to cleaning our air, while continuing to maintain two of the greatest ports in the US at the forefront of advancing a generation of green port practices.
It’s time to move at fast forward speed to set the agenda, establish time lines, and demonstrate that the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles are indeed in California and part of the world’s largest economy.