Ships stowing outside US ports idling out pollutants | Supply chain crisis

D.Tons of huge cargo ships decked out with tall stacks of colorful containers still line the coast of Southern California. As part of a shipping bottleneck that plagues US ports, the ships – their diesel-powered engines are always on fire – also pump out pollutants while they are anchored off the coast.

The clogged supply chain has been described as an economic disaster as the late loading created bottlenecks in common goods and drove up consumer prices. But environmentalists and public health advocates are concerned it will turn into a climate catastrophe too.

The container ships waiting to enter are adding to the pollution that has long been coming out of ports, affecting the local environment, coastal communities and ambitious carbon targets needed to contain the worst effects of climate change. With the Christmas shopping craze just around the corner, there are now concerns that the problem could get worse before it gets better.

“The conversation right now is really focused on the backlog in the supply chain and stocking the shelves with products – but that’s not the whole story,” said Madeline Rose, climate campaign director for Pacific Environment, a climate protection organization that urges retailers to do , switch to clean energy shipping.

Ports are a vital part of the economy, bringing 40% of the goods shipped to the US and 30% of its exports, according to state records. The freight system, which includes trucks, trains, and planes that help distribute goods carried by ships, also generates $ 9 billion in tax revenue for the state and is responsible for a full third of the state’s economy. But it comes at a high cost. The system is also responsible for nearly half of California’s air pollution.

The ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, two of the busiest ports in the country, generate more than 100 tons of smog and other carcinogenic pollutants that are suffocating local communities – with about 6 million cars per day on the area’s roads.

An aerial view of traffic on the 91 Freeway and Green River Road flyover in California. Photo: Allen J Schaben / Los Angeles Times / Rex / Shutterstock

And that was before falling behind.

In previous years, ships could enter the port and immediately get a berth, but the ports have been overcrowded for more than a year, so that between 40 and 60 ships are anchored waiting to enter. In September the number rose into the 1970s.

In June, the Port of Los Angeles announced that it had become the first port in the Western Hemisphere to process more than 10 million container units in the past 12 months. In May alone, the port brought in more than 1 million euros – more than ever before in its 114-year history. And more is on the way. The port uses a digital technology platform called Port Optimizer to predict incoming freight volumes months in advance. It shows that “there was a significant volume in this year and into 2022,” Port of Los Angeles executive director Gene Seroka said in a statement.

Diesel powered

While the ships are anchored offshore, they use their auxiliary engines, usually diesel fueled, to power vital on-board functions such as cooling, lighting and their instruments. According to the California Air Resources Board, which published a report on the problem in June, this has “a significant impact on port communities through increased particulate matter (PM) and contributions to smog-forming nitrogen oxides (NOx)”. .

Nick Vyas, Executive Director of the University of Southern California’s Center for Global Supply Chain Management, said, “We’ve created a lifestyle where you can click anything and place an order,” but added that behind that convenience, there are complex supply systems.

The Biden government announced Wednesday that it had developed a plan with the Port of Los Angeles to begin operations around the clock to process the ships faster to reduce congestion in the supply chain.

While this can reduce congestion on the coast, it does not have as much of an impact on limiting emissions. “It will take the bubble out of port and move it inland,” Vyas said.

Sea containers will be unloaded in Los Angeles in April.
Sea containers will be unloaded in Los Angeles in April. Photo: Lucy Nicholson / Reuters

“From a pollution perspective, this can make things worse,” said David Pettit, a senior lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NDRC), an environmental group. Around 40% of the freight arriving at the ports does not end up on site. It is loaded onto diesel trucks that drive it to diesel trains to travel to destinations across the country.

“The communities near the port and along the trucking routes serving the port are mostly colored, low-income communities,” Pettit added. “They carry the brunt of the pollution, while we all benefit from cheap flat-screen TVs from China or Korea or whatever is in those containers.”

For years, frontline communities near the ports have been fighting for cleaner air. Nearby neighborhoods in Wilmington, San Pedro and West Long Beach have increased asthma rates and the highest cancer risk in the area, although ports have worked to reduce emissions. Poor air quality in some LA boroughs has also increased deaths from Covid, with deaths up to 60% higher than in areas with better air, according to a study by UCLA. Meanwhile, southern California saw one of the smog-richest years in decades, according to a Los Angeles Times report.

The ports have adopted joint emissions curb plans that have set targets to introduce zero-emission cargo handling equipment by 2030, but lawmakers and supporters are pushing for more action.

Los Angeles City Councilor Nithya Ramanin tabled a resolution on Oct. 5 calling on leading importers with ships entering the San Pedro port complex to commit to using zero-emission ships by 2030. The resolution also requires new plans from the city and state to create infrastructure that decarbonizes shipping lanes along the California coast.

“Our low-income colored communities living near ports have higher rates of asthma, cancer and more in children and we simply have no time to waste trying to make amends,” Raman said in a statement .

MEP Michelle Steel, who described the anchored ships as “an environmental and health crisis,” also tabled a bill to ban cargo ships from anchoring offshore near their district.

As part of a so-called “Ship It Zero” campaign, companies are putting pressure on large retailers like Amazon, Target and Walmart to commit to 100% clean energy shipping by 2030.

Proponents expect the first non-fossil fuel ships to set out to sea in the next three to four years, but ships typically have a lifespan of three decades, so ships built today could still be in service by 2050.

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