By Chris Philips
Managing Editor 

All Stick, No Carrot


The 16th annual California Maritime Leadership Symposium took place last month in Sacramento, California. Past CMLS conferences have been operations-related, well organized and well attended. Past programs offered a good cross-section of panels addressing the concerns and issues faced by the California maritime industrial community. The theme of this year’s conference was emissions, which attracted a particularly large group of non-operations ‘stakeholders’ from the environmental community. Sessions featured lectures from state legislators and regulators – ranging from the Environmental Protection Agency to Caltrans – as well as the environmental compliance branches of the large California ports. Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) whose existence is made possible by fees and fines on emitters were also present. One of these, the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC), described a scenario that should send chills down the spines of industry leaders.

NRDC litigator David Pettit described his job: suing and settling. Pettit described a range of clients who might bring suit against industry, including some that might object to the emission of particulates, and others who might be more concerned with greenhouse gas emissions.

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This attendee had no problem envisioning a scenario in which client A sues operator X for particulate emissions, and wins in a California court.

As a result of the suit, operator X pays millions in fines, and millions more to convert his fleet to LNG in compliance with the court mandate to reduce his particulate emissions.

Six months later, client B sues the same operator because of the new LNG fleet’s greenhouse gas emissions, and wins in a California court. At this point, operator X pays millions of dollars in fines, and presumably moves to Texas, with many of his former Californians.

One of the panels was entitled “Path to Zero Emissions” and discussed all the ways California ports would reduce equipment emissions to “zero” by 2030 or 2035, depending on the equipment. Much was made of new battery technology that indeed does show promise for some port equipment and commercial vessels, but it took a commenter from the audience to point out that the electricity for these “zero emissions” programs would be generated partly in coal-fired powerplants. The panel agreed that yes, the electricity would be generated elsewhere by plants that emit, but that the communities around the port would be spared the emissions.

We feel the well-intentioned California environmentalist looks pretty silly making poor kids in another state who live next to the coal powerplant walk to school under what he considers big black cloud of poison so he can pretend his electric-powered yard hustler is “zero emission.”

Not all the panels were emissions-related, and credit is due to the panel entitled “How Can we Partner to Increase Efficiency”, that included participants from both industry and labor, including the senior director of logistics and sustainability for Walmart and the president of the International Longshore Warehouse Union Local 13, who agreed that labor needed to be part of the solution.

Though there were some panels like the above that were truly operations-oriented, we were disappointed in this year’s focus on political policy, rather than the traditional focus on furthering responsible port and vessel operations.

The abundance of regulators, bureaucrats and environmental attorneys this year didn’t leave much room for maritime-related issues, although we did have a good burger and a couple of beers courtesy of Crowley Marine Services. We hope future events will focus on the actual leadership of the maritime industry rather than simply offering a platform for political and environmental ideologues.

Elsewhere, as in California, when Government mandates, Industry complies.

Ideally, local, state and federal mandates are the result of collaborative solutions involving industry participation. No such engagement from industry was accepted by the Washington State Department of Ecology when it unilaterally decided to disregard the effectiveness of US Coast Guard-certified and approved Marine Sanitation Devices (MSD) and instead petition the US EPA to make all of Puget Sound a No Discharge Zone (see this space, December, 2016).

The state wants to require all 678 commercial vessels working in the Sound to add holding tanks to replace their currently-approved MSDs, which macerate and treat the waste prior to release.

It is fitting to note that, at press time, King County, Washington has been pumping 50 million gallons of raw (untreated) wastewater into Puget Sound every day for a week, with no end in sight.

The effluent, overflow from a damaged waste treatment plant, to date has released 350 million gallons of human waste, storm water and untreated sewage. That equates to 516,000 gallons for every one of those 678 commercial vessels Ecology proposes to regulate, which translates to 28 years of daily flushing per boat. No word yet on Ecology’s response to King County’s infraction.

Chris can be reached at


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