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Northwest Ports Clean Air Strategy Frequently Asked Questions

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In 2021, the Ports of Seattle, Tacoma, Northwest Seaport Alliance in Washington state and Vancouver Fraser Port Authority in British Columbia, Canada completed a renewal of the Northwest Ports Clean Air Strategy (NWPCAS). The NWPCAS is a long-standing partnership among the four port authorities to reduce air and greenhouse gas emissions, spur development and deployment of clean fuels and technologies, and continue to advance job creation and commerce that supports our region and its connections to the rest of the world. The 2020 NWPCAS sets a bold, new vision to phase out emissions from seaport-related activities by 2050, supporting cleaner air for our local communities and fulfilling our shared responsibility to help limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C. Find frequently asked questions of the U.S. Ports (Port of Seattle, Port of Tacoma, and Northwest Seaport Alliance) below to learn more about the NWPCAS.

Which Ports are involved in the NWPCAS?

The four participating ports in the NWPCAS include Port of Seattle, Port of Tacoma, Northwest Seaport Alliance, and Vancouver Fraser Port Authority (British Columbia).

Why are the four Ports working together?

The NWPCAS is a unique and groundbreaking collaboration. When the Strategy was first adopted in 2008, it was the first international collaboration of its kind in the port community. The four Ports work together on air and GHG emission reduction for several reasons:

  • Shared airshed: The Ports are all located within the Georgia Basin-Puget Sound Airshed, so activities that produce air pollutant emissions at any port can impact air quality throughout the airshed;
  • Efficient use of resources: Through this collaboration the four Ports are able to pool ideas and resources to save time and money, reduce duplication of effort, and accomplish more together;
  • Common ground on clean air and climate action: The collaborative framework of the NWPCAS allows the Ports to create a relatively "level playing field" on clean air and climate action and investments across the Northwest, while continuing to compete in the commercial arena;
  • Stronger market signal: The four Ports can do more by working together than through working alone. Collaboration within the NWPCAS and setting goals shared across four ports sends a stronger market signal and creates a larger market to spur development and deployment of clean fuels and technologies in the Northwest;
  • Stronger voice: Similarly, through working together, the four Ports have the opportunity to speak with a common voice, which can be more impactful when advocating for policy change at the international level. 
Why did the Ports develop a new NWPCAS?

Since its inception, the NWPCAS has guided participating ports in their efforts to work collaboratively with industry, government, and community partners in the United States and Canada on reducing emissions. The new, 2020 NWPCAS continues and strengthens the spirit of collaboration and builds on a decade of successful implementation. The 2020 NWPCAS recognizes the urgent need to act to reduce air and climate pollution. We want to reduce, and ultimately eliminate, our contribution to diesel pollution that contributes to public health impacts and environmental health disparities in our near-port communities. And, we want to do our part to help limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (°C) this century. Last but not least, we want to position ourselves for success in a community, an industry, and a world where there is increasing focus on, and concern about, air pollution, climate disruption, and environmental injustice. 

How did the Ports develop the new vision?

The renewed Strategy sets a bold new vision: to "phase out emissions from seaport-related activities by 2050, supporting cleaner air for our local communities and fulfilling our shared responsibility to help limit global temperature rise to 1.5ºC." The vision was developed through an engagement process with community, government, and industry participants. Engagement informed a major change to the 2020 NWPCAS vision, which was originally drafted as, "Phase out emissions from seaport-related activities as early as possible this century...". To recognize the urgency of the climate crisis emphasized by many and align with the latest climate science form the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the participating Ports added the specificity and increased the level of ambition to phase-out emissions by 2050. The discussion of the vision and emission reduction targets in the Strategy acknowledges that the vision seeks to go further than some ports' established targets, and the pathways to phase out fossil fuels remain unknown for some sectors. 

What will the Strategy do to address environmental injustice?

The Ports understand that significant environmental health disparities exist in our near-port communities, according to research and resources including the Washington Environmental Health Disparities Map and the Duwamish Valley Cumulative Health Impacts Analysis, and that diesel pollution from port-related activities contributes to those disparities. Reducing our contributions to this urgent and complex challenge - in particular by reducing and ultimately eliminating diesel pollution from port-related sources in communities that experience environmental health disparities - is a central goal of the 2020 NWPCAS and the associated implementation plans of each port. The Ports will seek to better understand these disparities and our contributions to them through analysis and partnership with near-port communities, and will prioritize actions and investments that reduce them. 

Who was involved in the development of the 2020 NWPCAS?

The participating Ports led the development of the 2020 NWPCAS through extensive engagement with staff and decision makers at participating Ports, as well as substantive input from government partners, industry representatives, and representatives from non-profit organizations, and community members. The engagement process conducted by the U.S. Ports (NWSA, Port of Seattle, and Port of Tacoma) involved a select group of individuals and organizations to represent the different perspectives of impacted communities and industries. The U.S. Ports convened three workshops over the two-year process, conducted individual meetings, and accepted written comments during each round of engagement. The process also included joint sessions with participating government agencies, including in the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency, the Washington State Department of Ecology, and the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency; and in Canada, Environment Canada, BC Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, and Metro Vancouver. A full list of the participants in the strategy development can be found in Appendix A of the 2020 NWPCAS. 

What are some examples of NWPCAS successes?

The NWPCAS first began implementation in 2008 and was later updated in 2013. It has been highly successful at advancing seaport-related emissions reduction initiatives across the participating Ports. In the 2013 strategy, two emissions intensity reduction targets were established to be achieved by 2020: 

  • Reduce DPM emissions per metric ton of cargo moved by 80 percent relative to 2005.
  • Reduce GHG emissions per metric ton of cargo moved by 15 percent relative to 2005. 

Both of these targets were achieved several years early. The reductions can be attributed to changes in international, national, and provincial regulations; port programs to accelerate the turnover of old equipment; and voluntary efforts by industry to modernize equipment and reduce emissions. 

Another major success of the NWPCAS for the U.S. ports is the implementation of the Clean Truck Program, which went into effect in January 2019. The Clean Truck Program requires drayage trucks entering international terminals operated by NWSA to have model year 2007 or newer engines. Advanced emissions controls in these engines reduce DPM emissions over 70 percent. More information about NWPCAS success can be found in the annual Implementation Reports. 

What is an airshed?

An airshed is described as "an area where the movement of air, and air pollutants, can be hindered by local geographical features such as mountains, and by weather conditions" (Government of British Columbia). The four participating Ports in the NWPCAS began working together in part because of their geographic location within the Georgia Basin-Puget Sound Airshed. As each port operates within the shared airshed, air pollutant emissions produced from one port can have an effect on air quality across the region. The Georgia Basin-Puget Sound Airshed includes both the watershed around the Strait of Georgia in British Columbia, Canada and north reaches of Whatcom County in Washington and the watershed surrounding the Puget Sound (Government of Canada). 

Is the NWPCAS voluntary or mandatory?

The NWPCAS is a voluntary strategy. In the 2020 NWPCAS, participating Ports set an aspirational vision and objectives to phase out emissions from seaport-related activities by 2050. The Ports may advocate for regulatory changes that advance the NWPCAS vision and objectives. The Ports may also take actions to change port tariffs or policies as a means to achieve the NWPCAS commitments. However, without additional changes in policy or regulation, the participating Ports and port-related industries are not legally required to meet the NWPCAS commitments. In the past, the Northwest Ports have advocated for regulatory changes to help achieve NWPCAS emission reduction goals, like the implementation of the North America Emissions Control Area (ECA). The 2020 NWPCAS discusses the role of government policy and investment in the success of the zero-emission transition (Section 4.2). A combination of enabling policies and investments are needed to support zero-emission infrastructure development and to improve the cost-competitiveness of zero-emissions operations. 

How do Ports track progress and know if the Strategy is working?

Emissions from Maritime Activity sectors from the U.S. Ports are measured every 5 years as part of a region-wide maritime emissions inventory called the Puget Sound Maritime Air Emissions Inventory (PSEI). The PSEI covers air and greenhouse gas emissions from all maritime-related activities in the U.S. portion of the Georgia Basin-Puget Sound airshed, including ocean-going vessels, cargo-handling equipment, heavy duty-diesel vehicles, harbor vessels, rail locomotives, and fleet vehicles. The Ports track emission reductions relative to the baseline inventory year (2005) as a way to measure progress. The Ports also collect data and report on progress in annual Implementation Reports. 

Did the Ports achieve all of the objectives of the previous NWPCAS?

The 2013 NWPCAS set emission intensity targets for greenhouse gas emission reductions and diesel particulate matter reductions. Emissions intensity targets measure metric tons of air pollutant or greenhouse gas emissions reduced for each metric ton of cargo moved through the port. These metrics emphasize the increasing efficiency of ports to move more cargo with fewer emissions but may not equate to absolute reductions in emissions if growth in cargo volume outpaces reduction efforts. The 2020 NWPCAS will report on both absolute emission reductions and emission intensity targets, as the participating ports will need to achieve consistent absolute reductions in emissions to keep pace with the Strategy vision. 

The 2013 NWPCAS also set several objectives within each of the sectors. Progress toward these objectives continues to be published in the annual NWPCAS Implementation Reports. Although several of the objectives have not been met as of the completion of the 2020 NWPCAS, the participating Ports will continue working toward those that remain relevant to the updated strategy. These are highlighted in Section 5 of the 2020 NWPCAS. 

What is an emissions inventory and how often do they occur?

An emissions inventory estimates the amount of air pollutant or greenhouse gases (GHG) emitted from a source or operation, using globally recognized methods. An emissions source might include the combustion of a liquid fuel used by a vehicle or combustion of fuel used to generate energy used to power buildings. The U.S. Ports in the NWPCAS (Port of Seattle, Port of Tacoma, and Northwest Seaport Alliance) measure emissions from air pollutant and GHG emissions every five years through the Puget Sound Maritime Air Emissions Inventory (PSEI). The PSEI quantifies emissions for air pollutants and GHG emissions based on vessel or equipment details and operational profiles or activity data for each sector. 

The Port of Seattle also conducts annual GHG emissions inventories. GHG emissions are not detectable directly from an emissions source, so a GHG emissions inventory estimates the amount of GHGs emitted by multiplying a known activity level of a source - such as power load or gallons of fuel used - by a source-specific emission factor. All Port of Seattle emissions inventories follow the Greenhouse Gas Protocol Corporate Accounting and Reporting Standard

What types of emissions are tracked?

The Puget Sound Maritime Air Emissions Inventory quantifies maritime-related emissions from pollutants, relevant U.S. Environmental Protection Agency criteria pollutants and precursors, including carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxide (NOx), sulfur dioxides (SO2), volatile organic compounds (VOC), and fine particulate matter (PM2.5), as well as greenhouse gases (CO2e), diesel particulate matter (DPM), and black carbon (BC). The 2020 NWPCAS focuses primarily on DPM, because of the harmful impacts to human health, and greenhouse gas emissions to address climate change. 

Where can I learn more about the NWPCAS and track progress?

You can learn more about the NWPCAS on the Port of Seattle website, the Northwest Seaport Alliance website, the Port of Tacoma website, and the Port of Vancouver website. On this webpage you will find links to the annual implementation reports where you can track progress of the Strategy. Additionally, you can track emissions reductions progress on the Puget Sound Maritime Air Emissions Inventory webpage

How will the 2020 NWPCAS respond to changes in technology or policy?

Participating Ports will take an adaptive management approach to both monitoring and reviewing the 2020 NWPCAS. Technology, policy, and funding opportunities are expected to change and advance over the next decade and this adaptive approach will allow the participating Ports to incorporate changes into implementation in the near-term as well as consider implications of the changing landscape into the 2050 objectives and vision over time. 

Can Ports move faster than the zero-emission timelines set in the 2020 NWPCAS?

It’s important to note that meeting or beating the “zero by 2050” vision will require accelerated effort by many entities in many areas – including the adoption of supportive public policies, the commercialization of reliable and affordable zero-emission technologies, and the planning and installation of the necessary charging and fueling infrastructure both on and off the Ports. That said, the Ports are not limited in how fast implementation actions are taken and can achieve the proposed commitments ahead of schedule, and work toward the vision and objectives of the NWPCAS is already underway. For example, Port of Seattle plans to complete shore power installations at all of its cruise berths by 2023, well ahead of the 2030 NWPCAS objective. NWSA is in the process of designing shore power capability at Terminal 5 in Seattle and Husky Terminal in Tacoma – and is working with an operating partner to bring six electric yard tractors to one of its railyards later this year. The Ports will continue to evaluate the state of technology, policy, funding, and other factors to take an adaptive management approach to updating the objectives.

What is needed for the Strategy to be successful?

The participating Ports will not succeed in their vision alone; successful transition to zero-emission operations will require collaboration with government, utilities, industry, non-profit, community entities, and others. The 2020 NWPCAS identifies key conditions needed for the success of the strategy and outlines the roles of the port authorities in achieving these conditions and the roles of other entities within the Port network. The conditions for success include:

  • Enabling policy is in place domestically and internationally to support investment in zero-emission technology and infrastructure
  • Funding and/or access to capital to support adoption of zero-emission technology and infrastructure development where business case alone is insufficient
  • Adequate electricity and/or fueling infrastructure is available when and where needed
  • Technology is commercially available and demonstrated for port applications, and total cost of ownership is competitive (which may require enabling regulation and funding) 
  • Industry commitment to transition to zero-emission operations through investments and business planning
  • Workforce is trained to operate and maintain zero-emission technology 
Who pays for the NWPCAS and how much will it cost?

A Port and industry transformation to zero emissions will require unprecedented investment from a combination of public and private sources. In particular, funding will be important to reduce the risks of early adoption. Innovative financing mechanisms, expanded grant funding, public-private partnerships, and many other tools will need to be explored. Ports will facilitate government and industry discussions to identify preferred mechanisms that ensure ongoing port competitiveness while working to achieve the vision. Each Port’s implementation plan will provide more details on port-specific implementation costs. 

Will the NWPCAS help or hurt business?

The NWPCAS creates a framework for participating Ports to address climate change and air pollution while staying competitive in a rapidly evolving industry. The 2020 Strategy takes a smart, “adaptive management” approach to allow participating Ports to help facilitate this transformation in a way that improves our competitiveness over time. Transitioning to zero-emission operations proactively and strategically can reduce costs in the long term and avoid costs of inaction. The shared vision within the NWPCAS levels the playing field, allowing Ports and industry to invest in clean air and climate action and spur development and deployment of clean fuels and technologies without impacting their competitiveness with other Northwest Ports.

How does the NWPCAS compare to what other ports are doing for the environment?

We believe the NWPCAS puts us squarely in the vanguard of U.S. ports working to reduce pollution and advance sustainability.  The vision of the NWPCAS to phase out emissions by 2050 extends beyond the climate action targets of other ports. The San Pedro Bay Ports (Port of Los Angeles and Port of Long Beach) have committed to reducing port-related emissions by 59% for NOx, 93% for SOx, and 77% for DPM by 2023 and reducing GHGs from port-related sources 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 and 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. The Port of New York and New Jersey adopted a target in 2018 to reduce GHG emissions by 35% by 2035 and an 80% reduction by 2050.

The San Pedro Bay Ports also have a Clean Trucks Program and are committed to phasing out older trucks and transitioning to zero-emission trucks by 2035, a more accelerated timeline than the 2020 NWPCAS. However, the San Pedro Bay Ports are subject to a different state regulatory context in California. For example, California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard encourages the use of low-carbon transportation fuels, and in turn encourages the production of those fuels and generates credits to advance and fund zero-emission technologies. Additionally, the State of California has adopted the Advanced Clean Trucks rule, which has a target to get to 75% of sales of zero-emission heavy duty trucks by 2035. In the 2020 NWPCAS, participating Ports commit to an objective of 100% adoption of zero-emission technologies (including trucks and CHE) by 2050. 

Is it too late to inform how Ports take action?

It is not too late to inform how Ports take action on the 2020 NWPCAS. Engagement with government, industry, and community members will continue throughout implementation and around key projects. The Ports are also developing port-specific implementation plans in 2021. 

How often will the NWPCAS be updated?

The Ports will review collaborative actions, monitor key metrics, and identify areas that are on track or areas that are falling behind on an annual basis. The ports will review the vision, objectives, metrics, and all key aspects of the NWPCAS a minimum of every 5 years. Additionally, each Port will review progress on their own implementation efforts and make strategy updates as needed.

Does the NWPCAS include Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and/or Vancouver International Airport?

No. The NWPCAS has always been a collaboration to reduce seaport-related emissions and does not address emissions associated with airports or aircraft. Port of Seattle, which also operates SEA Airport, accounts for airport-related emissions through annual emissions inventories.

Does the NWPCAS include Washington State Ferries?

No. The emissions from Washington State Ferries are outside the scope of the NWPCAS but are accounted for in Washington state inventories.

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