The Port of Long Beach recently announced an important first: A BP oil tanker, the Alaskan Navigator, tied up at Pier T in Long Beach and shut off its diesel auxiliary engines, using alternative marine power ("cold ironing") to run the ship, including the energy-intensive oil pumps. This tanker was specially built to rely on electric power while at dock. We're not talking about a skinny extension cord here - the power cables are built to handle 6,600 volts or more. Cold ironing this ship is expected to save 10,000 gallons of diesel fuel per day. The net emission benefits will depend in part on the source of the electricity, but there is no question that the air quality near the port will improve if a ship plugs into shoreside power, relative to what it would be if the ship ran its engines for three or four days.
This is a welcome development. NRDC has been pushing the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles to move to cold ironing since the time of the China Shipping litigation in 2002.
But we can't stop there. A substantial percentage of air pollution from ships is emitted while the ships are in transit along the California coast. To remedy this, the California Air Resources Board has enacted a regulation that would regulate the sulfur content of marine fuel within 24 nautical miles of the California costs. But, the shipping industry has challenged this regulation in federal court. The Long Beach and Los Angeles ports enacted their own voluntary, fully subsidized clean marine fuel rule (set to expire next month), but enrollment by the shipping industry has been surprisingly low.
There may be national regulation of marine fuel in 2015, but if the shipping industry wins its lawsuit and the Ports' voluntary program expires, all Californians who live near the coast - and that is most of us - will be exposed to high levels of diesel particulate and other toxic air pollution from ships for at least the next six years. That should send an angry shock through all of us.