Commentary: the port of Long Beach hoists the green flag: an environmental turnover in one of the dirtiest industries. First in a two-part series.

Author:Schechter, Mara

Do you ever wonder how the TV you watch or computer you work on ended up at the store where you bought them? Recently, I visited Long Beach, California to check out and write about their port, which is the second busiest in the country (just behind their neighboring port, that of Los Angeles) and is a major hub for U.S.-Asian trade. Combined, the ports make up the San Pedro Bay Port Complex, which is the fifth busiest port in the world, taking in 40% of the United States' imports, half of which come from China. The Port of Long Beach (POLB) alone transports over $100 billion ($140 billion in 2007) and 85 million metric tons worth of cargo each year. It imports electronics, plastics, furniture, food, clothing, machinery and many other items.


Why should you care? Well, for one thing, you may be purchasing a lot of goods from these ports, especially if you are in the Western region of this country. And while you may worry about your car and its environmental impact, you're less likely to think about how imported cars come over on ships. For example, Toyota has a terminal at the POLB, where it ships over Priuses. Ironically, Toyota has not yet signed a Green Lease, an important aspect of the Port's new environmental policies.


The shipping industry is a major contributor to greenhouse gases. Out of all human-related emissions, ships produce 2.7% of carbon dioxide, 15% of nitrogen oxide and 8% of sulfur dioxide. According to recent articles in the L.A. Times, some ships emit more exhaust than 12,000 cars each day. In Southern California, the San Pedro Bay Ports are the single largest source of air pollution. This includes the heavy- and light-duty trucks, locomotives, and other vehicles operating in relation to shipping and cargo transport. Regarding vehicle emissions for the POLB, ships make up 50%; trucks make up 25%; and small boats, cargo-handling equipment, and trains make up the rest.

A study published by the Green Car Congress reports that CO2 emissions from shipping will probably soon exceed those of aviation. Ships, unlike airplanes, affect coasts, which is why public concern initially motivated the Port of Long Beach to develop some of their ecological initiatives. "The community has the power to change and halt things," says Richard Steinke, the Port's Executive Director. Bob Kanter, the Manager of Environmental Affairs and Planning for the Port, cites a 2000 study by the South Coast Air Quality Management...

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