Mary Nichols and Gene Seroka on: "Driving Toward a Carbon Free Transportation Sector"

Gene Seroka

This year’s LABC Sustainability Summit took place at USC on September 22nd, bringing together both local and national industry and political leaders to discuss what's being done and what should be done to bring us closer to a sustainable future. One panel, moderated by Mary Nichols, Director of the Climate Group, featured a discussion with Executive Director of the Port of Los Angeles, Gene Seroka, addressing what's happening with sustainability at the Port of LA. VX News presents here a transcribed excerpt from this panel.

Mary Nichols: Transportation is the engine, not only of the global economy, but also of the LA regional economy. It’s important that we are addressing it in [a] systematic way. According to the Department of Energy, vehicles transported 11 billion tons of freight last year, more than $32 billion worth of goods each day, and moved people more than 3 trillion vehicle miles. I like those big numbers. However, almost 95% of the world's transportation energy comes from petroleum-based fuels, largely gasoline and diesel. And in California, transportation is the largest wedge of the pie of our greenhouse gas emissions. We have been working on this for a long time and in a very deliberate way. California Air Resources Board (CARB) recently voted to move forward with the Advanced Clean Fleets Regulation, which will fully transition both heavy duty trucks that travel across the state, as well as buses, which mainly operate within cities and counties, and are very close to where people live and breathe.
This transition must take place by 2045, and every day it's harder to take those needed initial big steps. As a reminder, while trucks represent only 6% of the vehicles on California's roads, they account for over 35% of the state's transportation, NOx emissions, and of course, a quarter of our on-road greenhouse gas emissions. So, this is a big deal.
This panel is focused on the rapid transformation in the zero-emission vehicles (ZEV) trucking sector that needs to and is beginning to take place. We'll identify the obstacles and the opportunities in this conversion. Change also creates an opportunity to improve the overall equitable aspects of our pollution, and that will help people who live in communities most impacted by trucks. This is a challenge, but also has a tremendous role to play in improving the overall health and well-being of people who live close to major facilities.
We are pleased to have Gene Seroka, the Executive Director of the Port of Los Angeles because he sits at the center of the economic engine that we all talk about when we talk about the Ports. Gene, what are the biggest hurdles in the transition to zero-emission trucks, and what can the Port do most to help?
Gene Seroka: We have an outsized responsibility because there are 260,000 residents that live in that harbor enclave, and the key transportation corridors have hundreds of thousands residents, or more. It is absolutely the right thing to do, and you're not going to get any argument from me.
The first challenge is to harness the absolute inertia behind all these partners that are currently working together. There are more than 200,000 companies that import and export through the Port of Los Angeles annually. There are about 9,000 service companies in Southern California that move all that cargo, including about 1,200 registered trucking firms. Imagine how much we can get done if nearly a quarter million different businesses are rowing in the same direction. This is job number one.
There are examples everywhere of great progress and slow movement, and having all these companies work together I think is awesome. Regulators, policymakers, and community members should continue to challenge us every single day, and hold us to the highest standard possible, because no one else is.
The Clean Air Action Plans of the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles that were introduced because of that dialogue and pressure back in 2006 have yielded some remarkable results. There has been an 88% reduction in diesel particulate matter and huge reductions in NOx and SOx, and we're just starting to see our way towards carbon. This sets the stage to get to that last 10, 20, 30% that's out there on these source categories, and it's super daunting, but we have never had this strong of a resolve.
Challenges include infrastructure, which is super complex, energy generation and storage, distribution, and how you give confidence to that business industry. They will get the charge, the load, or the refueling capability that they have come to know today. Not easy. But you cannot paint the globe with one stroke of a brush. A good place to start is looking at big corridors where you can put a dent in these areas and get people's confidence built up. The original equipment manufacturers, the people who make and build the trucks, are a point, but we’re a really small patch. In our business, the corridors running to the rail yards in Los Angeles and out to the all-important Inland Empire, make up most of the cargo. How do we go after those, instead of trying to sprinkle everything around?
We introduced a ZE 25 program, meaning trucks that are going 25 miles in radius around the Port and have to go home and charge. That seems like a good way to start getting things going and to build that confidence across stakeholder groups, not just on the business side, but showing community members that we really are sincere about this. The infrastructure piece is really big.
We must have a statewide strategy to be able to tackle infrastructure. It's not going to mean a charging station at every mile marker on every highway and freeway in the state. But it sure can get after some serious and clear postulates. Why not just overlay where all the diesel stations are today and where the truckers fill up , and put partner fueling and charging right there? It's easier said than done, but it's a pretty decent map by which to start.
We're also doing a tremendous amount of work financially. We are talking about gargantuan numbers. We are not just talking about trucks, we are also talking about cargo handling equipment, locomotives for the trains, harbor crafts, and tugboats and pilot boats that come in and out every day. And, of course, the large ocean-going ships, which now make up the majority of all the emissions in and around the harbor complex, and residences live throughout that district. That's why we introduced the Green Shipping Corridor, and we now have five international ports that have signed up with us, along with great companies like Maersk, to say their goal and vision is a zero emission ship running from Shanghai to Los Angeles. This is going to be a challenge. Even if we reduce trade lanes emissions from ships by 10%, it will be equivalent to all the pollution at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach combined in one year.
There are big things we can do that will make a real difference to people who struggle everyday with horrible air and water quality that we need to pursue. There are challenges around regulation, but working together can yield greater results and keep pushing people in the right direction. But the financial aspect comes with the fact that you've got to comply with the law.
We had an Intermodal Conference in Long Beach this past week, and unfortunately, trucking companies were telling me that they are buying diesel trucks to register at the Ports before the end of this year, and before the Advanced Clean Fleet Rule goes into place. This is an unintended consequence of technology not being there just yet, but we must keep fighting.
In summation, the challenges are numerous, and detractors can point fingers, but we can start by being unified. We have a very strategic business perspective for how to go after these key corridors and technology adoption accelerants, and we are going to start making a real difference.
Mary Nichols: Gene, where do you need help to achieve your goals?
Gene Seroka: The business community that's super powerful and large and we keep bringing them together. The table is already set, there's no need to keep pointing fingers and telling people you're not doing this, you're not doing that.
The second thing is that we need to be laser focused on accelerating the technology and finding the funding and investment streams in whatever package they come. The Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners just increased my authority on individual voucher stacking capability up to $400,000 per vehicle for drivers. This is unprecedented. But the ability to do this was born out of the creativity of the regulating agencies and what we've heard on the ground. Though I wish we could push the money out faster and faster, we're not there yet, but we're building all these blocks. This room is full today of people who are super interested.
I'm only my mother's son - we are going to see successes; we're going to see great stories and case studies. But we're going to have failures and setbacks as well, because we are out there so far, and we are trying our level best to do everything. Innovation does require us to accept both of those. And please don't keep hammering people, because they are taking a chance and sometimes it doesn't work the first time or the 10th time or the 30th time. We are trying our level best, and everybody is working together. The proof is continuing to do it.
In Los Angeles, we have our neighborhood council concept under the city charter, and 96 different neighborhood councils, five in the Harbor enclave that each represent about 10,000 constituents. There are grassroots and neighborhood level, faith leaders, community leaders, small business, and large small business in the supply chain. It's the dry cleaner, the restaurant, all the other folks that mean so much because they see things from a different lens.
Finally, I don't know what I don't know, and I need help. I need people coming around to give me advice. Let’s beta test, sharpen it, and challenge it. If we can do all those things, we're going to keep moving the needle every single day. And there is not a day that goes by at work, where [the people working] at the Port of Los Angeles are not trying to push that envelope.

"There are examples everywhere of great progress and slow movement, and having all these companies work together I think is awesome. Regulators, policymakers, and community members should continue to challenge us every single day, and hold us to the highest standard possible, because no one else is." - Gene Seroka