A new federal report calls for phasing out older vehicles and vessels at the nation's ports in an effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions and nearby air pollution.
The Environmental Protection Agency's National Port Strategy Assessment, crafted over a two-year span with input from a technical review panel, said that currently available technologies across all port transportation modes — including equipment, trucks, railroads, harbor vessels and ocean-faring ships — could substantially improve air quality and reduce their impact on climate change.
The replacement of older drayage trucks — which haul port cargo over short distances — with cleaner diesel vehicles would reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by nearly 50 percent and particulate matter by more than 60 percent by 2020.
By 2030, the report found that complementing those fleets with new plug-in hybrid electric vehicles would yield additional improvements.
The agency said that developing cleaner port transportation methods will be particularly important as U.S. ports expand to accommodate more traffic and larger vessels over that span.
Although the EPA already maintains standards for diesel engines — and supports voluntary efforts to reduce diesel emissions — many areas surrounding ports do not conform to air quality goals.
The EPA estimated that some 39 million Americans live near ports — often in areas with high percentages of low-income and minority populations — and, as a result, are at risk for asthma, heart disease or other health problems linked to air pollutants.
"Economic growth can go hand-in-hand with continued improvements in the health and welfare of near-port communities and the safeguarding of our planet," the agency wrote.