The Healthy Port Communities Coalition (HPCC) advocates for clean ports and goods movement for the residents of the Houston Ship Channel. Since its founding five years ago, the HPCC has taken periodic trips to the port of LA/Long Beach to learn from our colleagues there. That port–the largest in the United States–has taken such progressive steps as banning all diesel trucks and mandating the use of shore power for all visiting ships.
Most lawmakers in Texas will tell you that what works in California doesn’t work in Texas. This fact is so ingrained in our advocacy work that we try very hard not to begin arguments with, “Well in California they…” But it’s hard to ignore that our friends in the west are making some of the greenest, most forward thinking decisions about goods movement anywhere in the world. That’s why we took a delegation of portside community residents, elected officials, public health advocates, and industry representatives to visit the world’s first all-automated, all-electric port: the Long Beach Container Terminal.
At full capacity, the Long Beach Container Terminal will handle more than 3 million TEUs (twenty foot equivalency units) a year. The Long Beach Container Terminal itself is so large that it ranks above the port of Oakland, CA in size. Perhaps even more remarkable, the terminal is 100% electric and 100% automated. All of the cranes and trucks are electric, using a combination of batteries and grid power. Ships that visit the terminal are required to shut off their diesel engines and plug into the terminal grid for electric power. Because the terminal is automated, efficiency is improved. The Long Beach Terminal processes more containers than its peers and is able to send fewer containers away empty than most port terminals.
Automation is progress, but what about employees displaced by technological advances? Both truck drivers and longshoreman have powerful unions that employee countless hardworking Americans. What does automation mean for these jobs?
The CEO of the Long Beach Container Terminal admitted to us that their negotiations with the union had been difficult. Automating the terminal had indeed cost some of the traditional port jobs, including truck drivers and longshoreman. But the Port of Long Beach engaged with these unions early in the process. They provided educational and job training opportunities that allowed many displaced workers to take advantage of new employment options created by the new terminal. When all was said and done, employment in the region increased due to the additional economic activity made possible by the new port terminal.
After we visited the cleanest, greenest port in the world, the Healthy Port Communities Coalition was introduced to a new pollution control technology, the Advanced Maritime Emissions Control System, or AMECS.
The AMECS system has been described as a “vacuum cleaner the size of a house.” It was designed to address the problem of air pollution emitted by the stacks of marine vessels. Marine vessels use some of the dirtiest fuel available today, and although the worst fuel can no longer be used within 200 miles of the coast, marine vessels are still a massive source of air pollution.
The AMECS system offers an elegant solution to this problem. A vacuum system is housed on a barge that can travel to meet ships that have arrived at the port. A device called a “stack bonnet” is placed over the smokestacks of the visiting ship. The house-sized vacuum cleaner is activated, sucking up all of the ship’s emissions. These air pollution emissions are filtered, and treated air is released to the atmosphere. With the AMECS system in place, a visiting ship can eliminate much of its air pollution emissions.
AMECS is just one example of a forward-thinking approach to pollution reduction that has been implemented in California. The Healthy Port Communities Coalition understands that California is not Texas. We aren’t asking the Lone Star State to follow California’s lead (although our departing Community Outreach Director might want us to). But we are asking Texas to pay attention to technological advances made by our direct competitors.
Texas enjoyed privileged status as a global leader in the energy economy of the 20th century. We are optimistic that Texas will find its way in the next century, but when we visit forward thinking ports like Long Beach, we can’t help but wonder if the state risks being left behind. The future of good movement is electric, and the future of electricity is renewable energy. Long Beach has already charted its path to a zero emissions future, and we hope that Port Houston can do the same.