Administrator Gina McCarthy, Remarks at American Association of Port Authorities, as Prepared


Thanks so much. I want to begin with a simple truth: America’s Ports are a cornerstone of commerce and economic growth. All Americans depend on ports—either indirectly, through the goods that pass through, or directly, if you’re one of the 13 million of Americans who works at a port.

A healthy environment is not just window dressing in port communities. It’s foundational to strong, sustainable economic growth. As freight activity increases, so does our mutual responsibility to keep pollution in check, and protect the people who help port economies thrive. That’s where we share priorities.

The vessels, vehicles, cranes, trucks, and dozens of other pieces of equipment that make a port productive also double as sources of pollution. We shouldn’t think of reducing pollution as a cost in the conventional meaning. That’s too simplistic a view. We have to count the benefits of pollution reduction—especially to workers’ health. Less pollution means fewer asthma attacks, fewer emergency room visits, fewer missed work days, and less exposure to cancer-causing chemicals. This is good for port employees and the surrounding community.

Let’s give credit where credit’s due—many ports around the nation are leading the way on pollution reduction. For example: the Port of Seattle is working with the maritime industry, regulators, and the local community to cut pollution, and they’re teaming up with the Port of Tacoma and Port Metro Vancouver to be a part of the Northwest Ports Clean Air Strategy, a voluntary emission reduction program. The Port of Seattle estimates that overall diesel particulate matter emissions went down 27 percent between 2005 and 2011. In that same time period, carbon pollution was slashed by 5 percent, too. And all the while, they’ve kept cranes lifting, ships sailing, and trucks hauling.

Another example is the Trash-Free Waters program at the Port of New Orleans. This Port just received an Environmental Leadership award from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality for its efforts to keep trash out of our nation’s waters.

I could really keep going with these, but let me give just one more example: The Land-Use Reclamation project at the Port of Baltimore is providing the community with both waterfront access and an environmental education center that serves local residents and schools. We don’t have to trade environmental health for economic health—we can have both. So at EPA, we see building that bridge, not as a challenge, but as an incredibly opportunity.

Here are a couple more quick examples of how EPA has worked with partners like you, to protect public health—while supporting port activity:

EPA developed the North American Emission Control Area around the nation’s coasts, so large vessels use cleaner fuel as they approach the coastline. This has been one of the most cost-effective environmental air programs EPA has put into place in the past decade, by itself, preventing up to 31,000 premature deaths and 1.4 million lost work days annually in the United States, in 2030.

That’s an air pollution example. We’re also working hard on water pollution. People in this room are well aware of the water quality problems stormwater can cause in coastal communities. EPA works with States to develop strong, workable requirements for stormwater—by looking at innovative management practices and green infrastructure approaches to improve water quality.

In December of 2013—EPA issued a final vessel general permit that regulates discharges from commercial vessels, including ballast water, to protect the nation’s waters from ship-borne pollutants and reduce invasive species in U.S. waters. With your input in mind, the rule also reduces administrative burdens for vessel owners and operators.

We can’t protect public health without partners like you. I hope you see our partnership as part of a good business strategy—because when people are healthy, so is the port economy.

Let me take a moment to recognize the Ports Work Group—which works with our Federal Advisory Committee to advise EPA on environmental issues. I know many of you are here today—I want to thank you for your incredibly valuable input and advice.

EPA will stay committed to working arm-in-arm with port authorities, shippers, carriers—and the communities that live around them—to help ports to operate more sustainably, fight climate change, and contribute to a cleaner energy future.

So we’ve talked about the essential nature of our partnership. We talked about some of the great things you’re doing, and some of the commonsense strategies we’re employing to cut pollution and promote port commerce.

Now I want to talk about one way we hope to add some wind to our sails. The Diesel Emissions Reduction Act Program (DERA) is one way to offer funding for clean diesel projects. DERA grants help ports build on commitments to clean air. Every dollar in DERA funding generates up to $13 in health benefits. How’s that for a solid return on your tax dollar? (Sorry if I just reminded someone they forgot to file their return…)

On top of that—for every dollar of DERA funding—project partners add $2 to $3 more. That means everyone is invested in success. And not just as a figure of speech—I mean that literally. Since the start of the DERA program in 2008, EPA has awarded more than 700 grants in 600 communities across the country. And 150 DERA grants have been targeted to improving air quality at or near ports, with about $175M in funding.

So let me take a minute to congratulate the 4 recipients of our recent grant competition for clean diesel projects:

Our first award goes to the Port of Houston Authority, where they’re reducing emissions by replacing old trucks with newer ones that run cleaner.

The next award goes to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, where they’re replacing old ferry boat engines.

The City of Los Angeles Harbor Department is the recipient of our third award. In LA, they’re electrifying diesel cranes to drastically cut emissions.

Our last award goes to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality…I was just in Oregon last week, and I saw how they’ll be replacing trucks and equipping cargo handling equipment with new filters at the Port of Portland.

Congratulations again to these grant recipients. And there’s another opportunity coming for more grants focused on ports, freight, and goods movement. We will open another competition in May for about $14 million in DERA funding.

Some pundits say that to protect the environment, we’re going to have to make do with less. You prove every day, that’s not true—that a strong economy starts with a safe environment, and a safe environment lets us do more. When you have healthy workers and healthy surrounding communities, you’re able to move more freight, do more business, grow our economy even more.

Thanks for all you do, and keep up the great work.