After years of planning, study and community input, the Long Beach Council of Harbor voted Monday unanimously to approve the implementation of charges for old pollution-producing trucks in the Port of Long Beach, including a controversial exemption for natural gas vehicles.
The Clean Truck Box rate program charges a fee for each shipping container transported to and from the port complex on diesel trucks. The fee — $10 per 20-foot equivalent unit, which is standard procedure for a container — will be charged to cargo owners and used to fund trucking initiatives to reduce emissions with the ultimate goal of achieving zero emissions by 2035 at the port.
Zero-emission trucks will be waived. Collection will start on April 1, 2022.
The clause also included a temporary exemption for natural gas-powered trucks that were purchased and registered at the port on or before December 31, 2022, with an expiration date of December 31, 2031. But the item was approved with amendments from Vice Chairman Sharon Wiseman, who exempted trucks Natural gas until December 31, 2034 if purchased before December 8, 2021, if owned by the original purchaser, and until December 31, 2031 for trucks purchased by July 31, 2022 and registered at the port within 30 days of receipt from the manufacturer.
“We are port rangers in the entire state of California and we must use our resources wisely and do everything we can to reduce emissions today,” Wiseman said during the meeting, noting that natural gas trucks dramatically reduce greenhouse gas and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions. “I can’t support delaying the reduction of harmful emissions any longer.”
The natural gas exemption has been at the center of the controversy after a joint investigation by the Los Angeles Times and news outlet Floodlight in partnership with the Guardian found that gas companies paid at least 20 local residents to pay for natural gas trucks during public meetings and press conferences in 2017. The company Method Campaign Services has secured at least $10,000 from Clean Energy Fuels Corp., which owns natural gas gas stations, the Times reports.
At least some residents have been told they are “advocating for sustainability” as part of an environmental campaign, The Times reports, unaware that they are on the side of fossil fuels.
“Unfortunately, the Port of Long Beach has been the target of a deceptive campaign for the gas industry, which has been driving this wrongful solution since 2017,” Long Beach resident Elliot Gonzalez said in a statement. “Those of us who are breathing in pollution from the port day in and day out have made it clear from the start that we want the port to use this revenue source to support the transition from diesel to clean, electric trucks.”
In May, commissioners approved a lifetime exemption from natural gas truck fees. Following the public response, the Board added the exemption expiration date.
As of August, there were 19,994 trucks on the Drayage Truck registry, according to an employee presentation. Of those, 9,384 trucks are from 2014 or later, which make 48% of the moves. About 70% of registered trucks meet 2010 EPA standards.
There are 911 natural gas trucks at the port that do 5% of the moves. Only 28 battery powered trucks were registered at the port.
The price-collection mechanism is still under construction but is due to be completed in March, according to a presentation on Monday. Based on current freight volumes, the fees are expected to generate about $90 million for the combined ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles annually in the early years, according to port documents.
Mario Cordero, executive director of the Port of Long Beach, said the port will prioritize incentives and programs first to increase the number of natural gas trucks operating within the port, with 10% allocated to zero-emission trucks. At the Port of Long Beach, over 6,000 old diesel trucks must be replaced over the next two years.
“The choice today is not between low NOx and zero emissions trucks, but between low NOx and diesel trucks,” Cordero said during the meeting, noting that these trucks could be replaced with new diesel trucks instead of the widely available natural gas trucks unless the exemption is included. . “We chose to emphasize the low NOx option to reduce emissions today and not wait for tomorrow.”
Cordero said zero-emissions trucks aren’t widely available commercially, making rapid travel impossible. Using natural gas trucks in the meantime is the best option to fill the void, while reducing emissions when compared to diesel trucks.
“Zero emissions are coming,” Cordero said. “But there is an alternative now.”
Since the San Pedro Bay Ports implemented the Clean Truck Program in 2008, diesel emissions have been reduced by up to 97% compared to 2005 levels, according to the Port of Long Beach’s announcement after the vote.
The public comment was a mixture of support and opposition to the natural gas exemption for many people. Many of those in favor of the exemption were from within the fossil fuel industry, such as gas station operators, trucking associations, and truck manufacturers. Many felt that the deadline to purchase and register a natural gas-powered truck was not feasible due to supply chain issues slowing down truck delivery.
Opponents of the exemption were locals and environmentalists who, like Gonzalez, urged the commission to prioritize zero-emissions trucks, noting that natural gas would not solve the pollution problems that plagued people living in port areas, including along the road. 710 Highway.
“We were treated as a sacrifice area for many years,” Gonzalez said. “We deserve real clean energy solutions that deliver immediate air quality benefits, not more polluting technologies being pushed by the fossil fuel industry at the expense of our health.”