PORTS + POLITICS: Stronger Ports, Healthier Communities

There are some policies in the works that will help ports run more efficiently and be more environmentally friendly – especially when it comes to air pollution.

* By U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.)*

The Port of Wilmington in Delaware is an economic powerhouse. The continent’s largest importer of fresh fruit, the port supports more than 19,000 jobs in the region and offers overnight access to a market of 200 million consumers. And just recently, I hosted leaders from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to tour the dredging sites that are part of a multimillion-dollar expansion that will create and support thousands of new jobs.

The more than 300 commercial ports throughout our country support trillions of dollars in economic activity, enabling American farmers, businesses and manufacturers to compete in the global marketplace.

But, in too many cases, our country’s ports also generate something else – air pollution.

The equipment needed to keep a port running can create harmful air emissions. Harbor crafts, cranes, storage equipment and large trucks often burn diesel fuel to operate for hours on end, producing toxic exhaust that includes black carbon, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter. These harmful pollutants contribute to respiratory illness and even cancer. Even while stationary, ships at many ports must keep engines running to power operations during the several days it can take to load and unload a vessel.

That’s why poor air quality is a serious problem for the almost 40 million Americans who live in communities near our ports.

Many ports are located in lower-income neighborhoods, forcing disadvantaged families to breathe polluted air and pay a disproportionately higher price for the environmental impacts of nearby port operations. As a co-founder of the first-ever Senate caucus devoted to environmental justice, I don’t see this as just an environmental or economic issue – it’s also a moral one.

With port volume projected to increase in the coming years, as top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, I’ve been working to advance policies that will help ports run more efficiently and be more environmentally friendly.

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