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Long Beach Port Goes "Green"

The pollution-reduction program, thought to be the first in the U.S. for visiting oil tankers, aims to switch them from diesel to electricity.

August 31, 2004|Deborah Schoch | Times Staff Writer

When BP tankers pump oil ashore at the Port of Long Beach, they burn 10,000 gallons of diesel fuel a day, boosting pollution in a port complex that ranks as the largest air polluter in the Los Angeles region.

But in late 2006, at least two BP tankers will be able to plug into onshore electricity and shut down their diesel engines.

The pollution-reduction program is believed to be the first in the nation for oil tankers. BP and port officials, who announced the plan Monday, called it a pioneering effort to balance economic growth with environmental concerns.

The switch to electricity is expected to reduce BP tanker air emissions for five types of contaminants -- nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, carbon monoxide, particulate matter and hydrocarbons -- by three to four tons per vessel call. And BP experts calculate that greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by 75 to 80 tons per call.

"We want to do more than live and work in communities. We want to make a difference," said Tim Scruggs, BP business unit leader in the Los Angeles area.

BP's participation is voluntary. In contrast, container ships owned by China Shipping are required to use electricity in the neighboring Port of Los Angeles as part of a court settlement.

The technology, known as "cold ironing," allows vessels to shut down their main and auxiliary engines and substitute electric power.

Residents of southeastern Los Angeles County have grown increasingly worried about diesel fumes and other air pollution from the ships, trucks and trains serving the twin ports, which make up the largest seaport complex in the United States.

Some residents have labeled the harbor area the "diesel death zone" because of studies showing that diesel fumes are a toxic air contaminant and probable carcinogen. The two ports produce nearly one quarter of the diesel fumes in the Los Angeles area.

Monday's announcement comes at a crucial time in the debate over port air quality.

Port officials and clean-air advocates are waiting nervously to see whether Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signs a controversial bill approved by the Legislature this month that would require port air emissions to be capped at 2004 levels. The governor has until Sept. 25 to sign or veto the so-called "no net increase" bill.

The Port of Long Beach opposes the bill, and, although the Long Beach City Council voted unanimously to support it, Mayor Beverly O'Neill said Monday that she questioned how the bill would work. "I agree with the intent, but I think the process needs more explanation," she said.

Some residents and activists said they were unaware of O'Neill's reservations.

"As far as we know, the city of Long Beach is in favor of 'no net increase,' and we have no reason to believe that they will not continue to support that bill," said Julie Masters, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

She also noted that Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn has ordered a new task force to create a no-net-increase plan for the Los Angeles port by the end of the year that would cap emissions at 2001 levels.

Simultaneously, environmental and clean-air groups are asking the Long Beach City Council to overturn the harbor commission's approval of environmental documents supporting a 115-acre expansion of the Pier J terminal. The council will hear the appeal on Sept. 14.

BP initially will equip two of its tankers to plug into onshore power, and will gauge the effectiveness before remodeling the other four to six BP tankers that call at Long Beach. The company plans to spend $1 million apiece to equip two brand-new tankers, named the Alaskan Frontier and the Alaskan Explorer. It will also pay for berth maintenance and for electricity. The port plans to spend $2.5 million to develop and build the necessary equipment at Berth T121, including gear to attach power cables to the ships.

The project grew out of a recent study conducted for the Long Beach port that concluded cargo vessels with high energy demands and frequent visits could make cold ironing economical. In an independent financial analysis, BP determined that it could absorb the cold ironing costs.

While some cruise ships in Alaska already use plug-in technology, the Port of Los Angeles was the first to apply it to industrial vessels, as required in a March 2003 settlement of a lawsuit brought by the Natural Resources Defense Council and other groups. The groups sued the port, charging that there were flaws in its environmental review process for the new China Shipping terminal.

Another Los Angeles port tenant, Yusen Terminals, has voluntarily built a container ship equipped for cold ironing, and an existing terminal will be remodeled so that it can plug into onshore power.

A new expansion of Pier 400 that will open this fall contains some cold ironing technology, but electrical lines must be built and the pier's owner, Maersk Sealand, still needs to retrofit its ships.

The two ports appear to be at the cutting edge of the technology nationwide. A spokeswoman for the American Assn. of Port Authorities said Monday that she did not know of any other U.S. ports with formal plans to install cold ironing equipment.

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