California is moving forward with a program that will fundamentally change the way cargo is transported to address climate change and reduce emissions at a cost of billions of dollars. The goal of this effort is to see all those who have a hand in moving cargo reduce their carbon output to zero or near-zero emissions.

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) Sustainable Freight Strategy will impact our ports – including the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach – airports, trucks, railroads, vessels, marine terminals, warehouses, distribution facilities and delivery trucks. Issues around the Sustainable Freight Strategy and how it is implemented are significant because this roadmap will be used as the basis for future regulations and investments as California moves to phase out the use of liquid fossil fuels, and the diesel engines that burn them.

The Pacific Merchant Shipping Association continues to support many efforts by California to integrate clean air technologies in global trade. However, if CARB’s Sustainable Freight Strategy is to be truly sustainable, it must give businesses a chance to grow while emissions are reduced. If this is an emissions reduction plan without financial support or funding, it will severely harm California’s international trade position, a role that helps fuel our economy.

CARB’s latest draft of the Sustainable Freight Strategy states:

“…the need to accelerate air quality progress for public health is urgent and the scope of emission reductions required to meet our mandates is vast. California must pursue immediate actions to reduce the unacceptably high risk from freight sources, and re-orient our freight system to meet our State Implementation Plan, and ultimately reshape the freight system to meet our long-term climate goals.”

To further complicate matters, in addition to the CARB Sustainable Freight Strategy, the South Coast Air Quality Management District is developing a 2016 Air Quality Management Plan that will be incorporated into the State Implementation Plan – or SIP. States, like California, that are not in attainment for national air quality standards must complete a SIP, demonstrating how they will meet federal air standards by a certain date or risk being penalized by the withholding of federal highway funds.

Already, efforts to reduce emissions from port- related activities have been a tremendously successful effort. We have seen an 80% reduction in pollutants, 50% for oxides nitrogen (NOx) and 90% for sulfur oxides (SOx). We still are implementing existing regulations that will continue to reduce emissions for some time to come. But, more importantly, we are moving more cargo with fewer ships, cleaner trucks, and cleaner rail and yard equipment. We also have seen the development of the first zero-emission marine terminals. These improvements have real air quality and green-house gas benefits.

Yet even with these achievements, it will take a Herculean effort to bring all of California’s ports to zero or near-zero emissions. We share CARB’s goals of transitioning the freight system into the cleanest and most efficient system possible at the earliest possible date. But the earliest possible date must be driven by a realistic investment plan for new technology, something which the strategy currently lacks.

If California products and port gateways are to remain competitive while meeting the Sustainable Freight and SIP goals, CARB and SCAQMD must help the freight transport industry make these epic transformations possible. They and other agencies must base their air quality plans and regulations on independent economic analysis, accurate data and common sense forecasts. They must also support incentives and funding for these ambitious changes. To date, the maritime supply chain has spent more than $5 billion dollars on port-related emission reduction activities in California alone. The looming cost to convert the supply chain to zero emission systems will easily dwarf that amount.

This is why it is imperative for CARB and SCAQMD to recognize the importance of keeping California ports competitive and understand the need to keep goods flowing through our state’s gateways. We must have the cargo to generate the revenue that will to help transform our ports into the greenest and cleanest in the world.

Implementing the Sustainable Freight Strategy and gaining federal approval for the SIP will hinge on all of us working together toward co-equal goals of lowering emissions to zero while growing California’s share of global trade. If we do not move forward together to attain these duel goals, we risk losing cargo, losing jobs and losing the resources to achieve the zero or near-zero emissions that were the reason for creating the plans in the first place.

First published by the Los Angeles Business Journal

John McLaurin is president of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, a non-profit shipping association that focuses on issues affecting international trade. PMSA operates from offices in Long Beach, Oakland and Seattle and represents owners and operators of marine terminals and U.S. and foreign vessels operating throughout the world.