Port of Long Beach saw slight decrease in air emissions for 2020, before mass cargo backlog

The Port of Long Beach last year saw a slight drop in air emissions despite a 21% increase in container movement, but with an unprecedented global shipping backlog this year, emissions will likely be higher, experts say.

The Board of Harbor Commissioners on Thursday reviewed the Port’s annual emissions inventory, which logs air pollution from the ships, truck traffic and rail systems that move cargo. The ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles together make up the busiest harbor complex in the Western Hemisphere and move 40% of the nation’s imports.

The report found that for the first time, the Port of Long Beach has reached all of its 2023 emission-reduction goals outlined in the San Pedro Bay Ports Clean Air Action Plan, despite moving record cargo volumes.

The inventory report found diesel soot was down 90%, while smog-forming nitrogen oxides have dropped 62% compared to 2005 base levels. Sulfur oxides decreased 97%.

Source: Port of Long Beach

Last year, cargo movement halted in the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and was followed in the third quarter by a record surge. The pandemic caused other unique factors that affected emissions last year, including fewer oil tankers arriving to the port and the halting of cruise ships operations.

The port attributed the 2020 pollution reduction in part to participation in green programs, newer ships, replacement of older equipment and switching to low-sulfur fuel.

About 16% of the cargo-handling fleet, about 235 pieces of equipment, is now powered by electricity, officials noted.

“We are absolutely committed to showing the way forward for sustainable goods movement,” said Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero said in a statement Thursday. “At the same time, our industry partners and other stakeholders deserve a great deal of credit for cleaning the air. We could not have accomplished this without a shared commitment to cleaner operations.”

While the ports have both made gains over the past decade in air emissions reductions, progress in recent years has slowed as the harbor complex continues to see record cargo movement. The port in 2020 saw a 7% increase in greenhouse gas emissions and a 1% increase in carbon monoxide, which officials attributed in part to “cargo-handling equipment and heavy-duty truck activity related to record activity.”

Source: Port of Long Beach

The report comes as the harbor complex is grappling with a mass shipping bottleneck that is causing a nationwide shortage of goods and increasing air pollution in neighboring communities.

A September report from the California Air Resources Board found that increased cargo movement and congestion resulted in 14.5 extra tons per day of smog-causing nitrogen oxides in March.

The report also found an extra 0.27 tons of particulate matter compared to pre-pandemic base levels. The increase was equivalent to exhaust from nearly 50,000 large diesel trucks

Sam Pournazeri, chief of the Mobile Source Analysis Branch for the state air resources board, told the Post that the report measured point-in-time air emissions in March, and that emissions now are likely double as a record number of cargo ships sits offshore waiting to unload.

The state agency expects to come out with a more extensive report next year showing emissions spikes from the backlog.

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Kelly Puente is an award-winning general assignment and special projects reporter at the Long Beach Post. She has worked as a journalist in Long Beach since 2006, covering everything from education and crime to courts and breaking news. Kelly previously worked at the Long Beach Press-Telegram and the Orange County Register before joining the Post in 2018. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in public policy and administration at Cal State Long Beach. Reach her at [email protected].
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