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Latest California port rules could cut down on pollution for Port of Richmond community

Posted on October 25, 2023

Pollution at California’s ports has been a long-standing topic of controversy, with charges that it is negatively affecting the health of those who live nearby. But new rules announced in mid-October are getting tougher on one source of emissions that has so far been ignored.

At the Port of Oakland, the concerns over pollution have been two-fold: the semi-trucks waiting for pickup and delivery and the giant ships themselves, as they sit, sometimes for days with engines running to keep the ship operating. But in 2007, new rules mandated that ships drastically cut their emissions by plugging into shore power and kill their engines.

“So, if you’re a container ship and you’re at the Port of Oakland or the Port of L.A. or Long Beach, we plug in more container ships at those ports than any other ports in the entire world,” said Mike Jacob, with the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association.

Jacob said his industry spent $1.5 billion installing the equipment and has achieved a cut in emissions of 80 percent, as a result.

“There’s absolutely no question that this is a rule that we have successfully implemented, as an industry, for the better part of a decade,” he said. “We are exceptionally proud of the investments that we’ve made.”

But the federal Environmental Protection Agency announced new rules that will bring that cut up to 90 percent and make it apply to each individual ship, rather than a company’s fleet average.

Jacob said that will be a paperwork nightmare, but he doesn’t think it will actually affect Oakland very much. Where it will have an effect is at the Port of Richmond.

That’s where the specialized ships hauling new cars are offloaded. And around the bend, near the Richmond/San Rafael Bridge, tanker ships line up at the dock to deliver oil to the Chevron Refinery. Those two types of vessels have always been exempted from the rules because, unlike container ships, they don’t usually follow a normal circular route that brings them back again and again.

“So, you might see a car carrier in California once. You might not see it again for another five years or ever again. And that’s true for foreign tankers, too,” said Jacob.

Under the new rules, tankers and car carriers will also have to meet the emissions targets, phased in between now and 2027. The California Air Resources Board is trumpeting the new regulations, saying in a statement:  “Once the new regulation is fully implemented, it will deliver a 90% reduction in pollution from vessels at berth and will result in a 55% reduction in potential cancer risk for communities near the Ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Richmond.”

The Western States Petroleum Association is suing CARB over the mandated equipment tankers must carry, saying some of it hasn’t even been invented yet. No one is sure how this will work if a ship arrives without the equipment to meet the standard.

But at this point, the industry has four years to figure it out.


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