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Better Ports, Better Communities, Good Jobs

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The twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are enormous - the largest port facility in the nation, movers of much of the world's goods, and the reason for thousands of jobs. The ports' impact on the environment is enormous, too. Particulates and nitrogen oxides emitted by diesel-powered ships are part of the problem.

To encourage shippers to dock their cleanest and "greenest" ships here, officials of both the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports have begun programs that will reward vessel owners for improvements that reduce emissions beyond the regulatory standards set by the International Maritime Organization.

The more a ship uses clean technology beyond what is required by international standards, the more the ports will pay ship's operator as an incentive - as much as $5,250 per docking for ships with the newest engine technology. In ten years, under this and other air pollution mitigation programs, the Long Beach port expects that 90 percent of all ships will run cleaner than those docking today.

Incentives like these are not a complete solution to air quality issues at the ports and in surrounding communities. Rewards are a carrot and they've already been successful in limiting some operating procedures that are polluting. The necessary stick is a requirement that companies leasing port facilities dock only the "greenest" ships. Port lease agreements are supposed to include stricter air quality standards by 2016. That's hardly soon enough.

When "green" ships dock, they'll hook up to an onshore electrical connection and turn off auxiliary diesel generators, a switch underway since 2004. The goal is 80 percent of all ships powered by the onshore electrical grid by 2020. Container movement at the ports is transitioning from diesel to electricity, too. But the new demand will strain the region's electrical generating capacity (with its own pollution issues) and require new or upgraded transmission infrastructure. How costs will be shared between rate payers, the ports, and shipping operators is unclear.

Both ports also are developing cleaner, alternative energy sources, including solar arrays and electrical generators fueled by natural gas. These are comparatively expensive, however, and can't replace all the ports' energy needs.

Enormous and enormously complex, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach generate both jobs and environmental challenges. Solving them will keep jobs here and improve the quality of life in portside communities.

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