It's been said that what starts in California eventually ripples across the country. If the impact of the long-running legal and political battle over truck-related air pollution at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach is to be felt across the nation, the Virginia Port Authority (VPA), 3,000 miles away, wants to be ready for it.
"We have not yet [confronted] the air quality issues that the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are grappling with," said J.J. Keever, deputy director of the VPA, in a recent interview with DC Velocity. Nonetheless, he said, for nearly a decade, the VPA has been developing a voluntary, focused environmental policy that "we think will put [us] even with, or ahead of, any federal mandates that may be on the horizon."
Keever said VPA's carbon-emissions reduction plan includes making greater use of biodiesel for fuel, using hybrid locomotives in its on-dock rail operation, and making low-interest loans available to truckers to buy cleaner-burning vehicles. The port also conducts a biennial voluntary emissions inventory at its terminals, Keever said.
Surging tide of imports
But air quality mandates are not the only thing VPA expects to come rolling its way from the Pacific. It's also preparing for an influx of cargo when the Panama Canal opens to larger vessels in 2014.
VPA believes it's in a good position to compete for traffic that will result from the canal's expansion. Because of the 50-foot depth at its main terminal in Norfolk—the deepest terminal facility on the East Coast—VPA claims it is the only East Coast port that would be able to handle fully loaded vessels that will come through the expanded canal. As an added draw, VPA can offer fast intermodal connections to the U.S. Midwest. The port is the Eastern anchor for Norfolk Southern Corp.'s "Heartland Corridor" project, which opened in early September and offers two-day double-stack train service linking the port with the Rickenbacker Global Logistics Park in Columbus, Ohio, and with Chicago.
However, Keever said VPA has no plans to promote itself as an alternative for Asia-originating cargoes that now come through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. "An expanded Panama Canal will benefit the East Coast, but we don't think it will have much impact on the volumes of West Coast ports," he said.
Keever said East Coast ports would naturally benefit because most of the U.S. population resides east of the Mississippi River and many retailers have their distribution centers there. "An expanded canal does give shippers and ship lines greater flexibility and more options."