Marine Transportation System

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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