The volume of world trade has skyrocketed over the past 50 years, fueled by by technological and geopolitical change. The largest trading nation in the world, the U.S., and U.S. ports, have played a central, pivotal role in that growth.
Overseen and managed by state and local governments and agencies, the 360 U.S. ports are mainstays of local and regional economies and employment, as well as international trade in goods and services. They typically aren’t healthy places to live or work, and their social and environmental impacts extend far beyond their geographic boundaries. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) aims to change that.
Over the past eight months the EPA has engaged port businesses, local communities, government agencies and academic specialists around the U.S. in a national dialogue with the aim of identifying and implementing initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and environmental pollution from ports. The effort is bearing fruit today in Washington, D.C., where the EPA is hosting the inaugural Advancing Sustainable Ports Summit.
U.S. ports, trade and employment
Connecting U.S. businesses of all shapes and sizes to global markets, the 360 U.S. ports are vital to trade, commerce, local and regional economies. According to the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA):
- U.S. seaports are responsible for moving more than 99% of the country’s overseas cargo by volume, and 65 percent by value.
- Each of the 50 U.S. states relies on at least 15 seaports to handle its imports and exports, which total more than $3.8 billion worth of goods moving in and out of U.S. seaports each day.
- U.S. seaports handle more than 2 billion tons of domestic, import and export cargo annually.
- The value of all international trade (goods and services by land, air and sea) accounts for nearly 30 percent of the U.S. GDP. That value, which was 13 percent in 1990, is forecast to increase to the equivalent of 37 percent by 2015 and 60 percent by 2030.
Furthermore, according to U.S. Census statistics, the value of international goods shipped through U.S. seaports totaled $1.73 trillion in 2011, the AAPA highlights, “representing more than 11 percent of the total U.S. GDP.” That doesn’t include the value of the estimated 1 billion tons a year of domestic cargo moved that flows through U.S. seaports, “the value of cargo handling services, or the cruise industry impacts.”
The economic impact of U.S. ports is only expected to grow.
The U.S. Department of Transportation projects that freight moved through U.S. ports will increase by over 50 percent by 2020 as compared to 2001, with the volume of international container traffic more than doubling.
U.S. ports are also mainstays of employment and job creation. According to the Social Security Administration, in 2007 U.S. imports and exports of goods and services supported some 13.3 million U.S. jobs in 2007 with an average pay of around $49,000 a year, about $12,000 a year more than average U.S. wages.
As the AAPA highlights, the Cato Institute has found a historically strong relationship between economic growth, international trade, and job creation in the United States.
Real GDP in the U.S. more than doubled between 1983 and 2007, and the real value of U.S. trade increased five-fold. Over that 25-year period, the U.S. economy created 46 million net new jobs, or 1.84 million net new jobs per year. As the APA points out,
“In 22 of those 25 years, the annual changes in GDP, trade, and job creation all moved in the same direction — either all positive or all negative. And as economic growth came to a halt and then turned negative in 2008 and 2009, respectively, trade contracted by 12 percent and the economy shed over six million jobs.”
All that said, U.S. ports and businesses have had large and negative impacts on air, water and land resources that extend well beyond their boundaries, as well as on local communities.
Incentives and recognition for improving ports’ environmental performance
The EPA’s first “Advancing Sustainable Ports Summit” will serve as the launch pad for an EPA initiative to recognize ports that take action to improve environmental performance, according to an agency press release. Moving things forward, the EPA is also awarding $4.2 million in grant funding for clean diesel projects at six U.S. ports at the summit.
As EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy was quoted as saying,
“Ports are the main gateway for U.S. trade and are critical to our country’s economic growth, yet the communities surrounding ports face serious environmental challenges. Today we demonstrate that through collaboration and innovation we can achieve the goals of economic growth and environmental stewardship.”
The new port environmental performance recognition initiative provides additional incentives to improve a wide range of environmental issues affecting ports and surrounding communities, including improving local air quality, reducing carbon emissions, and addressing issues of environmental justice. Part and parcel of the new ports environmental performance program, the EPA will work with port authorities to develop emission measurement tools to help better understand ports’ energy use and environmental impact.
Six ports will receive $4.2 million in Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) grants to take actions to improve air quality and reduce carbon emissions. The Port of Seattle, Port of Hueneme, the Port of Tacoma, the Maryland Port Administration, the Virginia Port Authority, and the Port of Los Angeles will use the grant funds “to retrofit, replace or repower diesel engines resulting in immediate emissions reductions in harmful pollution,” according to the EPA.
Image credit: Rennett Stowe, courtesy flickr
Graph credit: American Association of Port Authorities