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Report: Charleston Port reducing air emissions

Bruce Smith, Associated Press

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) -- Efforts to improve air quality at the Port of Charleston are paying off with a sharp reduction in pollutants in recent years, according to a report released Monday.

The report, compiled by the consulting firm of Moffat and Nichol, compares pollutants from port-related activities in 2011 to a 2005 baseline of such pollution from an earlier study.

The latest report said that newer, cleaner engines for trucks and other port equipment have led to a 51 percent decrease in carbon monoxide and a 26 percent in hydrocarbons released into the air. The consultants analyzed a 2,500-square-mile area extending from the mouth of Charleston Harbor shipping channel inland to include Charleston, Dorchester and Berkeley counties.

"New international fuel standards as well as efforts by the maritime community mean that our air quality continues to show improvement," said Jim Newsome, president and CEO of the South Carolina State Ports Authority.

New rules require the use of low-sulfur fuels for oceangoing vessels calling in North America. Those rules took effect in 2011 and are not reflected in the report.

The 74-page report said that emissions from cargo-handling equipment such as cranes resulted showed a 57 percent reduction in particulate matter and a 99 percent reduction in sulfur dioxide.

"It's absolutely great to see the port making strides and they are to be commended that they are doing these inventories at all," said Blan Holman, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

But he said most of the pollution is from vessels and while the new fuels for oceangoing ships will help reduce particulate matter and sulfur dioxide, emissions of nitrogen oxide, which contributes to ozone, will not be affected that much.

"The cleaner fuel is not a panacea and it doesn't take care of all the pollution from ships," he said. "But it's a welcome advance."

The authority began using ultra-low sulfur in its handling equipment in 2007, three years before it was required by federal law. The authority has used federal grants to put newer, more efficient and less polluting engines on 21 gantry cranes and 35 container handlers.

The agency also has a program to get older trucks that frequently call at the port off the road.

That program started almost two years ago allows truckers driving trucks that are at least 20 years old to get a $10,000 incentive toward buying a newer vehicle. Truckers also get the scrap value of their old truck from a local recycler, usually around $2,000

Half of the $10,000 incentive is paid by the Ports Authority, while the other half is paid through a federal grant. So far, 60 of the older trucks have been removed from the road.

Efforts to reduce pollution should also have benefits across the state in the future.

The authority recently broke ground on a new inland port in Greer in upstate South Carolina.

The port is designed to more efficiently move containers and other goods by rail to Charleston. It's estimated that, when operational, it will eliminate 50,000 truck trips a year on busy Interstate 26 from the Greenville-Spartanburg area to the coast.