As the nation's second-busiest seaport, the Port of Long Beach moves more than $100 billion in goods annually and faces some serious environmental challenges. During today's OnPoint, Richard Steinke, executive director for the Port of Long Beach, discusses the port's environmental initiatives and reacts to the Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club lawsuit against its clean trucks program. Steinke also explains why he believes there are signs of economic recovery coming out of the ports.
Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to the show. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Richard Steinke, executive director of the Port of Long Beach. Richard, thanks for coming on the show.
Richard Steinke: Thanks for having me.
Monica Trauzzi: Richard, the Port of Long Beach is the nation's second busiest seaport and moves about $100 billion in goods annually. Recently, the port implemented a Clean Trucks Program, which is already facing some controversy. NRDC and the Sierra Club have sued the port for essentially cutting, what they're saying, is you guys cutting a deal with the trucking industry and that would result in very minimal environmental benefits as result of this Clean Trucks Program. What's your response to this lawsuit?
Richard Steinke: Well, we really don't see it that way. In fact, we have been working cooperatively with all of our stakeholders, whether it be the community, the licensed motor carriers, our oceangoing carriers and the retailers to make sure that we have a fair and equal program and I think the proof is in the pudding. As of January 2010, 90 percent of the trucks that are entering the L.A./Long Beach harbor complex are EPA 2007 compliant trucks. We've reduced emissions by from the harbor grades trucks by about 80 percent. So, I think from all measures, that when we're looking at a Clean Trucks Program this has been a very successful program.
Monica Trauzzi: So, under the current plan, will Long Beach be able to stop trucking companies from using trucks that don't meet the environmental and safety standards? Are you in the authority on that?
Richard Steinke: We will be able to prevent individual owner operators or any truck driver who doesn't comply with any of those standards that we have in our registration agreement. So, effectively, those trucks won't be able to access marine terminals if they're in violation of any of those requirements that we have. We don't need a concession agreement as being espoused by the NRDC or the Sierra Club in order to do what we're doing and, again, as I said, I think the proof is in the pudding in terms of how successful the program has been since October 1, 2008.
Monica Trauzzi: OK and one of the things that's being said in the suit as well is that the American Trucking Association will essentially have the authority to oversee any future updates to the Clean Trucks Program. Is that the case?
Richard Steinke: No, that's also not the case. We have a registration agreement. If we change things, we change them in our tariff that we have and that controls the activity of the individual truck drivers that access terminals. So, between our registration agreement and our tariff we'll be able to require additional requirements for trucks entering our facilities. So, our city attorney's office and the people that we've been working with feel very comfortable, for our position, on the Clean Trucks Program.
Monica Trauzzi: This is being described though as a backroom deal with the American Trucking Association. What exactly happened there with ATA and how would you characterize the agreement that you struck with ATA?
Richard Steinke: This is a Clean Trucks Program. This program is about cleaning up the dirty diesel trucks. We've proven that we've been able to do that. I gave you the statistics about that. It's not a backroom deal. It's about clean trucks. Clean trucks are operating. We've got enough clean trucks to service the containerized business at the Port of Long Beach and we did that through a various series of open door meetings with the stakeholders over a period of time. The real issue is whether or not truck drivers should be employees of the various companies or whether they can maintain their owner/operator status. So, unfortunately, the issues have gotten clouded. From their standpoint, it's less about clean trucks and it's more about some other agendas that they have in mind.
Monica Trauzzi: More broadly, how important are environmental issues as you are doing the long-term planning for the port?
Richard Steinke: You know, one of our basic premises has been for the last several years with our green port policy and this clean air action plan that we've done with our neighbor the Port of Los Angeles is to reduce the harmful effects of diesel emissions from all kinds of equipment and oceangoing vessels that access our terminals. So, it's critical to go forward with the programs that we've done. We're doing it with, as I said, rail locomotives, yard equipment, the harbor grade trucks, the watercraft that are using the terminal. So it's an ethic we believe in, one that's very important to our community and our commitment is that we will be able to increase cargo with less emissions and less pollution over time.
Monica Trauzzi: Ports have always been seen as a big challenge from an environmental standpoint. Do you think it's possible to get the ports to a level where there's fewer emissions and the air around the ports is cleaner?
Richard Steinke: Absolutely, and the Port of Long Beach has recently done the air emissions inventory that says just that. Because we've cleaned up those various sources of diesel emissions in locomotives and oceangoing vessels, in yard equipment and the diesel trucks, we're showing that we can reduce diesel particulate matter, NOX and SOX, and really have a better, cleaner community. So, we're able to do that and we're very proud of that and we think other ports across America will be following our lead.
Monica Trauzzi: In terms of transportation infrastructure, you're in town trying to get Congress to federally fund the overhaul of the Gerald Desmond Bridge and that carries 15 percent of the nation's cargo across it. Why is fixing the bridge critical to the nation's economy and also international trade?
Richard Steinke: Well, that bridge was built in 1967. It's beyond its useful life. It doesn't carry enough cargo. It's only a two lane bridge both ways. It's not high enough to have the largest ships in the trade go under it and we have some safety issues. So we're seeing some sprawling of concrete. We actually have diapers or netting underneath the bridge to catch the falling concrete, so it needs to be replaced. As you said, about 15 percent of the nation's cargo crosses over that bridge, 40 percent of the nation's cargo containers come through L.A./Long Beach, so this is a job creator. It will create about 4,000 to 5,000 jobs each year for the next five years during construction of the new bridge and the takedown of the old bridge. As I said, it puts people to work. It moves America's cargo, so by any criteria, it's a critical project for the Port of Long Beach.
Monica Trauzzi: Final question here. What are your expectations for growth coming out of the economic recession and are you seeing signs of a strengthening economy based on what you're seeing at the port?
Richard Steinke: Well, we just got our December '09 numbers in and this is the first time in 23 months that we've seen an increase in cargo containers. So, it's a first step, which we hope will be an indication of future growth, both on the import side and the export side. Imports were up about 13 percent. Exports were up about 31 percent. So, we're cautiously optimistic that 2010 will show a moderate increase in growth after almost two years of negative growth.
Monica Trauzzi: Okay, we'll end it right there. Thank you for coming on the show.
Richard Steinke: Thank you.
Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.
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