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Port Employers Attack Plan to Curb Ship Smog

March 08, 1987|DARYL KELLEY | Times Staff Writer

In what could become a heavyweight battle over the cost of cleaner air, the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles have joined the shipping industry to challenge a new air-quality rule that may be adopted by September.

Under the proposed rule--the first of its kind in the nation--ships would be required to shut off their diesel-operated generators and use dockside electrical power while in port. That, says the South Coast Air Quality Management District, would substantially reduce smog in the Los Angeles Basin.

The change would also sharply lower the exceptionally high levels of nitrogen dioxide--smog's brown haze--in Long Beach and the harbor area, according to the AQMD.

However, the rule would cost shippers and the ports at least $200 million to implement and would result in higher dockage fees that could hurt port business, shipping and port officials told the AQMD in its first public workshop on the issue last week.

"What these extra costs mean is that many ships will go to other ports," said Jay Winter, executive secretary of the Los Angeles Steamship Assn. About 35% of the cargo that comes through local ports is destined for the Midwest or East and could easily be rerouted to ports in San Francisco or Seattle, then hauled cross-country, Winter said.

No studies have been done to determine how much business might be lost at the local ports, which handle 70% of West Coast cargo, port officials said.

Balanced against those economic considerations are large air-quality benefits, said AQMD spokesman Ron Ketchum.

2% Share of Pollutant

According to a 1984 AQMD study on which the proposal is based, nitrogen oxide emissions from ships in port make up about 2% of the basin's total and about 6% of that produced by the region's industry. Most nitrogen dioxide, a main element of smog, comes from vehicular traffic.

At least three-quarters of the ship emissions--an estimated 17 tons a day by 1988--would be eliminated if proposed Rule 1165 is adopted, Ketchum said.

But Byron Buck, a Port of Long Beach planner, said a port study indicates that the AQMD's estimate of emissions is five or six times too high.

And Winter, of the shipping industry, said AQMD estimates of fuel consumption by ships at berth are far too high and emissions are less than half that reported by the agency.

"We want to work with air-quality people in reducing pollution, but frankly we don't think we are a problem," Winter said.

Port and industry spokesmen say they are encouraged by comments at last week's workshop by AQMD engineers that indicate the agency may be willing to adjust its calculations and work toward a solution that may not be as costly.

"Their attitude is one of openness to new information, so there is not all-out warfare," said Cal Hurst, an environmental scientist at the Port of Los Angeles.

Ketchum said AQMD's estimates are based on data provided by the ports, but are preliminary and can be adjusted.

Estimates for how much it would cost to implement the new rule vary greatly, but all involved say that the price tag would be high.

Few Ships Equipped

Few ships are now equipped to hook up with dockside electrical outlets and it would cost from $30,000 to $200,000 to retrofit a vessel, Winter said.

In addition, powerful electrical outlets would have to be constructed at dozens of berths in each harbor. Estimates vary as to what it would cost. Equipping 82 berths at the Port of Los Angeles would cost more than $100 million, according to a Department of Water and Power spokesman.

Southern California Edison has not estimated that expense for Long Beach, but if a lower AQMD estimate of $500,000 per berth is accurate, the cost would be about $30 million, Buck said.

Another major expense would be incurred by the power companies, but Department of Water and Power's Lauren Peer said he could not yet provide a cost figure.

Shippers would also have to add about six hours to their usual 24- to 36-hour stays in port to hook up, then disconnect 20 to 25 wrist-sized electrical cables, Hurst said. And the cost of electricity for an average ship would increase by about $1,500 a day, Winter said.

Safety may also become a major issue as the new rule goes to hearing this spring and summer. The Coast Guard told the AQMD that ships whose engines and generators have been shut down would not be able to put to sea for three to four hours in case of emergency, such as a wharf fire, said Capt. Robert Janecek.

The Coast Guard is also concerned that wave and tidal surges that are common in the port might wash ships away from wharves and snap electrical lines, creating a fire threat, Janecek said.

Ketchum said the new rule is a high priority for the four-county AQMD board. But he said it was not connected to federal pressure to meet clean-air standards, nor tied to federal funding.

The basin will meet federal standards for nitrogen dioxide by 1988 even without the rule, he said.

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