Marine Transportation System

Posts Tagged ‘climate change’

An Opportunity, Not Just An Optimist’s Musing

In Green Transportation, Marine Highway, Surface Transportation Policy on July 6, 2010 at 11:22 pm

I couldn’t pass up this tease question in an emailed promotion for a conference (in Marseille, if anyone has a spare ticket on the QM2 to offer a humble blogger).

Is Climate Change a challenge or an excellent incentive to facilitate the renaissance of the shipping and maritime industries?

Okay, I’ll bite.  My answer is yes.  It’s a challenge and it presents a generational opportunity that the maritime sector can’t afford to pass up.

Can climate change actions revitalize the shipping and maritime industries?  (Another question posed by the conference organizers.)   That not only is a timely question but it is the right question along with some others:

Will the American maritime sector will take proper advantage of the persistent national environmental and energy imperatives?  Will the U.S. industry only tinker around the edges of design and technology?  Or will it aggressively leverage global climate policy concerns to transform marine transport and services into  a new market opportunity?  Moreover, will the industry actually try to engage the interest of the US government in such a major transformation?

Marine transportation has some natural advantages.  It tends to avoid little things like 10-mile backups on the turnpike.  Its carrying capacity makes it the most efficient on a ton mile basis.  That efficiency can also mean some comparative environmental benefits, along with some less pleasing emissions.

But as we have seen those pluses are not sufficient to move UPS to adopt coastal water routes or to convince government to integrate marine highways into surface transportation policy.  Nor have various studies as to those benefits convinced shippers and other skeptics of Jones Act shipping.

After all, notwithstanding some attractive plans for new marine highway service, the industry has been slow to present concrete evidence that it has the will to leverage climate and energy policy drivers in order to bring about its own “renaissance.”  I reach once again for a convenient contrast: the railroads.

The Class Ones could see the time was ripe.   They have advertised the public benefits of  rail freight , they have  leveraged Federal support for the building of “green” locomotives, and they came up with a major bid to Congress,  anyone who would listen, for a 25 percent investment tax credit for infrastructure improvements to their systems.

I know none of this is simple stuff for the maritime sector.  And of course the economics are daunting to companies that operate on thin margins.  But does the industry–especially the US flag stakeholders–have a vision as to what it can be?   What the vessels can look like?  What cleaner fuels can be burned to make the environmental benefits of marine transport undeniable?   What visible improvements can be made to demonstrate that change is taking place to transform 20th century operations into 21st century wow!

As I have noted elsewhere in this blog, give the Sailor and the Secretary good reason to say “cutting edge” when talking about a vessel or a major advance in maritime goods movement.

We are handed an opportunity when Congress debates climate action measures and major reforms to energy policy.  Pbea

CAFE for Ships?

In Efficiency, Environment on January 20, 2010 at 11:06 pm

The liner shipping industry, through its World Shipping Council, has proposed a regime for improving ocean-going vessel emissions worldwide.  It’s a good move.  The WSC considered what proposals were already on the table–fuel tax and emissions trading system–and offered something different and credible.

The Vessel Efficiency System (VES) takes a cue from regulatory regimes like American CAFE standards for vehicles.  Reduce fuel consumption and increase efficiency to reduce carbon emissions.

An international standard is a must for such a borderless, multinational industry.  The industry knows that at least one proposal on the table has in mind using ocean shipping as a revenue source for the broader GHG reduction strategy discussed at COP15 in December.   (Simply a tax on bunker also would not address enviro complaints that emission reduction is not directly addressed.)  WSC doesn’t want GHG tax revenues raised on ships to stray far and so proposes “that some significant portion of the funds be dedicated” to R&D ‘targeted at increasing the energy efficiency of the world’s fleet.”

Presumably the proposal will have some support among major flag nations.  Undoubtedly the proposal will be picked apart in some quarters.  But then WSC President Chris Koch and environmental VP Bryan Wood-Thomas know that.   Better to have your own proposal in the mix.  “The Committee is invited to consider the information in this document and take action as appropriate.”

Below are some excerpts from the VES proposal; the full document is here; a JoC story is here.   Pbea

~ ~ ~

World Shipping Council – Vessel Efficiency System (VES)

  • Establish efficiency design standards or targets for new and existing vessels where calculation of an Energy Efficiency Design Index baseline is feasible,
  • Establish mandatory efficiency standards applicable to new builds, with subsequent standards established through successive tiers,
  • Establish different (less stringent) efficiency standards that apply to the existing fleet after a given year,
  • Assess charges on fuel consumption for existing vessels failing to meet the standard for existing vessels, and
  • Establish a fund populated by the revenue.

The purpose of combining vessel design efficiency with the fund concept is to:

  • Produce an enhanced environmental result;
  • Address criticisms that the other proposal to establish a fund through fees on bunker sales would be a commodity tax with limited impact on improving carbon efficiency across the world’s fleet;
  • Provide greater incentive to vessel operators to invest in efficiency improvement; and
  • Discourage the long-term operation of the most inefficient vessels.

For those ships subject to the charge…the relative cost per ton is less for those ships that miss the standard by a smaller margin.  The least efficient ships of a given class and size would pay the highest charge.

Like the Danish proposal, such a system would generate funds for an IMO administered “fund;” however, this approach would also financially reward those ships that meet the specified efficiency standards and create an incentive to improve or retire the least efficient vessels within a given class and size grouping.

The Marine Highway Route to Climate Action

In Green Transportation, Marine Highway, Surface Transportation Policy on October 15, 2009 at 7:26 pm

BlogActionDayCall me silly, but I give benefit of the doubt to John McCain, Barack Obama, Al Gore (yes, him, too) and the slew of scientists who have convinced leaders around the globe that the time for action to address global warming is…yesterday.   (With such heavy stakes I’m betting on the smart guys–people of science.)

Closer to home, I trust people like marine biologist Marisa Guarinello, who on Sunday told me of her recent stint in Antarctica.  She witnessed the consequences of diminishing ice habitat and the effects on native species.

I also trust my gut, paunchy thing that it is.  I never expected in my lifetime to see terra-evolution.  From my early years in grammar school I learned, as we all did, about  the  Ice Age and other such periods that lasted over the course of  tens of thousands  of years.  When I see ongoing evidence of change (the Melting Age?) occurring in my lifetime it’s a bit unnerving.

Want an example?  How about the shrinking of the Arctic?  So much so that studies and early planning are underway for Arctic shipping routes as ice is reduced to being less of an obstacle.  I understand that there is opportunity in them thar high latitude shortcuts, but that opportunity has the look of silver lining an awfully dark cloud.

The Marine Transportation System can do more than take advantage of a disturbing, ecological change to Planet Earth.   It also can contribute to the reversal of GHG factors.

In fact the future of the MTS–the prospect for growth in maritime-centered mobility–is dependent on marine transportation being relevant in the Climate Change Era (CCE).

Our friends in USDOT might agree with that assertion.  They are preparing the administration’s view as to the next surface transportation policy.  Even as the policy is in development clear themes are being voiced by Secretary Ray LaHood and his team.  Sustainability.  Livability.  Mobility.

The Secretary sees the MTS as fitting neatly in that framework of principles.  He said marine transportation, specifically the development of the American Marine Highway (AMH), as transformational for the national transportation system.

Marine transportation is highly efficient.  It moves large volumes of  things using less fuel than  the other surface modes.  It has advantages from a GHG perspective.   However it isn’t a slam dunk for “Green Mode of the Year.”  But with the right investments it can do even better in contributing to our environmental and energy security.  Fuel switching.  Operational adjustments.  New technologies.

Government and the private sector have roles to play here.  Federal policy should aggressively foster both the use and greater advances in marine transportation.  Investments in technology, new equipment and AMH services by the private sector, or its public sponsors, should be rewarded.  Research should be supported.  Transportation policies in this CCE should be unified through the integration of modal policies and some programs.

Like it or not, change is happening.  There are implications for the Marine Transportation System.  Let’s make it work both for future generations and for the industry that supports millions of jobs.   Pbea

A Tale for a New Age

In Green Transportation, Surface Transportation Policy on October 8, 2009 at 5:18 pm

“My jolly body shall a story tell
And I will clink for you so merry a bell
That it shall waken all this company;
But it shall not be of philosophy,
Nor yet of physics, nor quaint terms of law;
There is but little latin in my maw.”
(from The Sailor’s Prologue by Chaucer)

Give the sailor a new story to tell.

For all of the new thinking that is going in transportation circles the maritime sector would appear to be an industry that lingers in the past.  We know that some companies are plotting real innovation.   The use of renewable energy, more efficient vessel designs, and replicating nationally the Alaska Marine Highway trailer trade.   We know that there are inherent efficiencies to hail and some companies would build on that.

But in the absence of an organized effort to tell how the industry and its skilled labor force is trending into a new age –and have virtues of particular relevance today–the outward appearance amounts to a familiar, 20th-century one.

Not so with the railroad industry.  The once Iron Horse now has the look of a low emission, high performance thoroughbred.  The appearance is a calculated one that to some degree is also deserved.  When new equipment is brought on line with green power plants there is no question about it.

“I have to say, the folks there have really turned out something cutting-edge. The NS 999 cranks out 1500 horsepower relying solely on rechargeable batteries. And, it releases no diesel exhaust emissions. None.”

Those aren’t words from some Norfolk Southern executive.  They’re from the USDOT Secretary’s blog.    The Class Ones have a story to tell and they’ve been telling it.  Good for them if the Transportation Secretary wants to join in.  (And why not?  The President likes to tout the new Detroit from the podium.)

What’s the maritime story?  One that will turn heads in Congress…that will prompt a sustainability-conscious president to urge more use of and investment in marine highways?  One that says our waterways are the nation’s past and future?

A maritime industry lobbying effort is in the works.  A collective “fly-in” (Washington lobbying lingo) by labor, business and ports is being organized for spring 2010.  What will be the message?  That the industry produces many great paying jobs?  That the maritime sector is important to the economy and our national security?  All factually correct and important to say.  But it’s an old–in some ways ho-hum–story.

It isn’t message enough when the government is tackling climate, energy, congestion and freight transportation issues, and will be setting policies and programs to last the next 5 years and more.  And it isn’t relevant enough when businesses, including customers of freight services, are developing strategies to bypass congestion, reduce fuel costs and carbon footprints, and earn EPA SmartWay credentials.

We are approaching fast the convergence of government policy and business imperatives.

It is no wonder that the railroads are projecting themselves–successfully so–as worthy of a hearty handshake from Al Gore.  Will the maritime sector also be ready and relevant?  Will the policy makers know why it makes sense to use marine transportation in this new age?  There’s only one way they will know.

Give the sailor a new and true story to tell.    Pbea

Will Ports Be Ready? (Part 2)

In Environment, Ports on September 15, 2009 at 5:14 pm

Will U.S. ports, especially those on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, be ready to operate in the changing domestic and international commercial environment? With major shifts on the way the ports that adequately prepare will be the ones to maintain and gain market share.  The change in environment—at local, national and global levels—will be a constant factor not easily addressed.

Environmental Concerns
From 2002 to 2007 many ports found it necessary to have a proactive environmental policy to get community approval to operate and expand.  Most major ports experienced double digit volume increases that resulted in problems with surrounding communities over increasing road congestion, noxious air emissions, and safety concerns.  In the San Pedro Bay ports communities voiced their anger to local politicians and in short order port projects were put on hold.

With the collapse of global trade, the pressure subsided as the number of containers and trucks decreased.  However, all indications suggest that world trade will rebound and cargo volumes will double by 2040.  Community concerns and political problems will re-emerge as well.  Other environmental issues may also emerge to affect port business practices—consumption of non-renewable resources, bio-hazards, and concerns about species redistribution that may persist even with ballast water regulation.  A proactive policy may again be a necessity for certain major ports if their environmental performance is seen as problematic for their neighbors.

Green house gases (GHG) are probably going to be the biggest environmental game changer for businesses as climate change policy is put in place and businesses calculate the added expense.  The U.S. contributes 20 percent of the world’s emissions from burning fossil fuels; India contributes 4 percent.  Will there be a carbon tax or cap and trade policy established worldwide?  What will be the cost penalty for oceanborne cargo here or worldwide?  How fast will engine room and terminal equipment technology adapt?  Those questions await answers and clarification.

As climate change concerns and political acceptance addressing those concerns increase, the pressures to aggressively address GHG will be enormous.  (That is likely notwithstanding the relative environmental and energy per-ton/mile efficiency of the marine and rail elements of MTS related transportation.)  These issues will have even greater impacts on the cost of ports, particularly if dealt with retroactively.

Next: Consumer demand and the bottom line.

T. H. Wakeman

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