Commissioner Creighton Comments on 2011 Air Emissions Report and Next Steps by Port of Seattle

Maritime-related air pollution has decreased—as much as 40 percent, depending on the type—since 2005, according to a report released today by the Puget Sound Maritime Air Forum.

“The results of the 2011 Emissions Inventory are significant, with substantial pollution reductions across the board for the Seattle harbor,” said Seattle Port Commissioner John Creighton.  “We still have work to do in protecting the environment and the health of both our workers and our communities, but the results of the 2011 inventory show that we are headed in the right direction.”

The report is the result of the 2011 Puget Sound Maritime Air Emissions Inventory, which provided an update to the 2005 baseline inventory.

The inventory estimated greenhouse gases, diesel particulate matter and a number of other pollutants, such as sulfur dioxides and volatile organic compounds. It focused on pollutants related to ships, harbor vessels, cargo-handling equipment, rail, heavy-duty trucks and other fleet vehicles associated with maritime activities.

Much of the clean air progress is due to significant, voluntary investments of the maritime industry and government agencies in cleaner technology, cleaner fuels and more efficient systems of operation.

Results from the 2011 inventory will help guide and focus future emissions reduction investments.Emissions in the airshed dropped since 2005 from the following pollutants:

Nitrogen oxides: reduced 14 percent

  • Volatile organic compounds: reduced 40 percent
  • Sulfur oxides: reduced 14 percent
  • Particulate matter (PM10): reduced 16 percent
  • Fine particulate matter (PM2.5): reduced 16 percent
  • Diesel particulate matter: reduced 16 percent
  • Carbon dioxide: reduced 5 percent


Overall, emissions fell for most sources since 2005. Diesel particulate matter emissions are summarized below:


  • Ocean-going vessels: reduced 16 percent
  • Harbor vessels: increased 7 percent
  • Locomotives: reduced 24 percent
  • Cargo-handling equipment: reduced 40 percent
  • Heavy-duty vehicles: reduced 52 percent
  • Fleet vehicles: reduced 47 percent

In the harbor vessels sector, which includes ferries, tugs, fishing and recreational boats, some categories of pollutants increased.This is likely due to a 12 percent increase in boat traffic, as well as an increase in the use of larger engines, which have higher emissions.

The maritime industry has adopted a number of voluntary initiatives to reduce emissions, including switching to low-sulfur or biodiesel fuels, using shore power, replacing or retrofitting older engines and improving systems to use equipment more efficiently.

The Northwest Ports Clean Air Strategy, a ground-breaking initiative of the ports of Tacoma, Seattle and Metro Vancouver, B.C., has helped further reduce emissions in the Puget Sound and Georgia air basins. Mandatory engine and fuel standards also have spurred adopting newer engines and cleaner fuels.

Some of the decrease also can be attributed to fewer ship calls and less cargo resulting from a sluggish economy.

Inventory results will help focus future efforts and investments. The ports of Seattle and Tacoma are updating their Northwest Ports Clean Air Strategy goals based on the inventory results.

Maritime partners will continue efforts to lower diesel emissions because they pose a public health risk. Exposure to diesel pollutants can contribute to increased rates of lung cancer, chronic respiratory and cardiovascular disease and other health effects.

Maritime industry partners continue to seek ways to reduce emissions from all sources, with particular attention to ships. While ship-related emissions have dropped, they account for 63 percent of the maritime-related diesel particulate matter emissions.

The 2011 results do not account for the North American “Emission Control Area” that went into effect Aug. 1, 2012, requiring ships operating in waters along the Pacific, Gulf and Atlantic coasts of the United States and Canada to burn cleaner fuels. This regulation is expected to have a significant effect in further reducing ship-related emissions.

The Seattle Port Commission will also soon be considering the next generation, or “Phase 2”, of its Clean Trucks Program.  The Commission will be taking a look at a number of options to incentivize cleaner truck technologies in the harbor, including a proposal by Commissioner Rob Holland last year to sponsor a pilot program with respect to trucks powered by compressed natural gas, or CNG.

“We have set the goal at the Port of Seattle to be the cleanest, most energy efficient port in North America,” noted Commissioner Creighton.  “I want to thank Commissioner Holland for his efforts working with port stakeholders –regulatory agencies, manufacturers, shipping and trucking companies and truck drivers – to look at how the Port of Seattle can continue to improve air quality for our community.”

Solving Traffic Issues for Both Freight and Cars in the Puget Sound Region

In 2009, according to the Texas Transportation Institute, Seattle was ranked 10th in the nation in terms of traffic congestion. Commuters spent hours behind the wheels of their cars, simply looking at the license plates of the cars ahead of them.  Unfortunately, the problem has only gotten worse in the subsequent years.  In 2012, the city ranked 4th in congestion, according to news reports.  It is a sad statistic, but there are some reasons to be hopeful.  For example, while it’s true that people in the Seattle area are spending longer periods of time in their cars, just trying to move through the city, is likely in part due to road construction.

Because cars share the roads with trucks, congestion also negatively impacts the movement of freight and, ultimately, our region’s economic health.   For many years, state leaders have known that Seattle does not have an efficient system for moving freight, and they have attempted to allocate funds to fix the problem.  In 2005, the state legislature passed an increase in the gas tax – later affirmed by referendum – aimed at funding 274 projects over 16 years, including $542 million for 35 targeted freight mobility projects.

Critical projects being currently undertaken in the Seattle area include the replacement of the Alaska Way Viaduct with the Deep Bore Tunnel and the replacement and widening of the State Route 520 bridge.  Grade separations are being built in South Seattle and throughout the Green River Valley so that cars and trucks will no longer need to stop for passing trains.  The replacement for the South Park Bridge, which had to be closed because it was no longer safe for vehicle traffic, will be completed next year (this is a critical project both for South Seattle neighborhoods and for Boeing freight traffic).  North of downtown Seattle, the Mercer Street corridor is being reworked in a manner that, among other things, will ease the journey of buses and trucks from I-5 to the Port of Seattle’s terminals in North Seattle.

But the 2005 measure does not address all of the state’s transportation needs.  A task force appointed by Washington Governor Chris Gregoire in 2011 estimated that the backlog in funding transportation projects in Washington State is at least $50 billion, though most important needs could be met with the expenditure of $21 billion over ten years.

To meet the Port of Seattle’s 25 year goals to grow seaport cargo throughput to 3.5 million containers per year and to triple air cargo activity at Sea-Tac Airport, it is critical that the state complete the extension of State Route 509 from the airport south to Interstate 5.  Similarly, for the Port of Tacoma to meet its long-term growth goals, the completion of State Route 167 is needed.  Both of those are $1 billion-plus projects however.

Our conversations about transportation funding tend to focus on the merits of specific projects. That usually leaves out a discussion about whether the project complements a broader regional and national strategy.  Does it warrant the dollars it requests, compared to other projects still waiting for funding?

Roads and railways are only as effective as the system they support.  If U.S. ports are going to continue to generate the family-wage jobs and economic opportunity they have produced in the past, transportation funding needs this kind of a new framework, one that ranks projects that best support the economy that move goods from farm to market. Moreover, a properly planned, constructed, and maintained freight system – adding capacity and building grade separations where appropriate – also benefits passenger rail, buses, motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians.