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EPA Turns Focus on Emissions Standards for U.S. Ports

EPA Turns Focus on Emissions Standards for U.S. Ports

   Subject Matter Expert:
Cole Hambleton: HambletonCL@bv.com

EPA Turns Focus on Emissions Standards for U.S. Ports

By Cole Hambleton, Black & Veatch

Currently, U.S. ports’ emissions are regulated by the EPA and state governments with the goal of improving air quality in and around shipping inland and sea ports. In 2014, the EPA began a grant program aimed at helping U.S. ports reduce their harmful emissions and to improve air quality in communities near these ports.

As a part of this grant program, the EPA also began researching and drafting what would be the Ports Initiative’s National Port Strategy Assessment. The EPA’s intent was to identify improvements that could be made at ports in an economic way.The EPA’s Ports Initiative has set goals for all ports regardless of their current emissions or regulatory status. EPA has taken various actions to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gases, to achieve environmental sustainability for ports, and improve air quality for communities near port facilities. Port emissions include vessels that are occupying port space, which make up a significant amount of a port’s emissions.

Low Sulfur Fuel Makes an Impact

U.S. and U.S. Caribbean Sea Emissions Control Areas already require lower sulfur fuel to be used for large ocean-going U.S.-registered vessels. This requirement has reduced fuel-based particulate matter emissions from these vessels by about 90 percent, according to EPA.

While U.S. ports are operating under the EPA program, the European Union (EU) has their own emissions program that will require large ships using EU ports to report their verified annual emissions and other relevant information, among other requirements. These reports will eventually be used to establish a baseline of pollutant levels that can be reduced through regulations over time.

U.S. ports can reduce their emissions from fossil fuel-fired sources using a variety of strategies and clean technologies. The “National Port Strategy Assessment: Reducing Air Pollution and Greenhouse Gases at U.S. Ports” examines current and future emission trends from diesel engines in port areas and explores the emissions reduction potential. The document suggests strategies such as replacing and repowering older, dirtier vehicles and engines and deploying zero emissions technologies. As U.S. ports continue to grow, and the size of ships coming into ports increases, the more greenhouse gasses (carbon dioxide) will be generated.

Regulating Other Pollutants

Additionally, emissions of other regulated pollutants will increase, like particulate matter and nitrogen oxide that contribute to serious health problems for individuals on site at the ports and in communities near the ports. By accelerating the retirement of older port vehicles and equipment and replacing them with cleaner available technologies, the emissions at the port will be reduced and public health benefits will be increased in a timely manner.

These emission reductions have been achieved as a result of cleaner ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel, advanced engine technologies, and emissions control systems integrated into the engines. While older engines being used at ports, in vehicles and as non-road engines, have been grandfathered into meeting air emission standards, these older engines are failing and need to be replaced, EPA says. The EPA believes that installing the best available diesel technology to replace the failing engines will lead to dramatic emissions reductions due to the newer technology.

Some ports are already applying the emission reduction strategies assessed in the National Port Strategy report. For instance, Siemens installed an eHighway system near the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the two largest ports in the U.S. The eHighway is the electrification of select highway lanes using a catenary system that supplies trucks with electric power, similar to how modern day trolleys or streetcars are powered on many city streets. This improvement is expected to generate significant emission reductions by eliminating many fossil fuel vehicles from the ports’ daily operations.

Building from conclusions in the National Port Strategy Assessment, the EPA could begin to require newer fleet vehicles to be used on a daily basis at ports as an initial measure that would significantly cut emissions. Eventually, replacing old diesel engines operating on shore and on ships would be the next logical step to help clean up the air quality in seaport areas.


The EPA is taking steps towards cleaning up the air for communities around ports and the National Port Strategy Assessment seems to be the outline for upcoming regulations regarding replacing aging equipment. While the new presidential term beginning in 2017 raises uncertainty regarding the future of EPA actions, the initial groundwork for EPA to develop regulations requiring the replacement of aging equipment has been completed.

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