Clean Fuels Are Good For Our Port And Our Community

By Stephanie Bowman and Peter Steinbrueck, Port of Seattle Commissioners

The Port of Seattle (the Port) strongly supports enacting a Clean Fuel Standard (CFS) in Washington State. A state-wide CFS will help generate jobs, improve our region’s global competitiveness, address climate change, and reduce air pollution in communities disproportionately impacted by transportation emissions.

The policy outcomes of a CFS dovetail with the Port’s goals: we operate seaport and airport facilities that promote economic development; and we are committed to ensuring environmental sustainability and reducing air emissions from all aspects of the Port’s operations. Those goals are embodied by the Ports commitment to reduce port-related greenhouse gas emissions at all Port facilities including Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) by 50 percent by 2030. But we won’t get there without the incentive created by a Clean Fuel Standard.

The Port has promoted sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) for more than a decade through partnerships with Boeing, Alaska Airlines, Washington State University (WSU), Climate Solutions, and more. SEA, the state’s largest airport, was the first airport in the country to adopt SAF goals. Alaska Airlines demonstrated the viability of powering planes with a blend of conventional jet fuel and biofuel made from waste-, plant-, or animal-based oils as far back as 2011.

Achieving the Port’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emission goals involves powering all flights leaving SEA with fuels containing at least 10 percent SAF by 2028. This goal translates to the need to produce 75 million gallons of SAF per year. Our state does boast raw materials like waste oils and other waste sources to produce sustainable fuels, strong state-wide policy is needed to leverage its production.

Our agriculture and forestry industries are perfectly positioned to ramp up production of feedstocks for a range of sustainable fuels, including aviation biofuels. Potential feedstocks include forest byproducts that are commonly burned and municipal solid waste currently sent to landfills. Increasing market demand for aviation and other sustainable fuels creates jobs for Washingtonians while re-using waste products that otherwise offer little commercial value.

In 2019, the Port partnered with WSU to research options and released a report demonstrating the potential to source more than 220 million gallons of SAF per year from these feedstocks. And in the long run, SAF can achieve cost parity with conventional fuels. In California, credits from the CFS allow renewable diesel to be cost-competitive with conventional diesel. Nationally, biodiesel costs even less than conventional diesel.

Without a CFS in Washington, however, clean fuel use here will continue to be low, and local sustainable fuel producers will continue to ship their products to California and Oregon to take advantage of the credits available through CFS programs in those states.

On the maritime side, emissions from Port operations come from cruise ships, grain ships, commercial fishing operations, and the Port’s own vehicles and buildings. For more than a decade, the Port of Seattle and the Northwest Seaport Alliance have partnered with the Port of Tacoma and Vancouver Fraser Port Authority on the Northwest Ports Clean Air Strategy to reduce GHG and air pollutant emissions. The four ports have achieved significant results through the collaboration, including achieving targets to reducing diesel particulate matter (DPM) and GHG emissions per metric ton of cargo by 80 percent and 15 percent, respectively, relative to 2005 levels.

On Wednesday, April 7th, these same ports announced that we will phase out seaport-related emissions by 2050 to support cleaner air in near-port communities and to fulfill our shared responsibility to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C. Doing so requires an array of strategies in collaboration with federal, state, local and tribal governments, community organizations, and commercial partners. The cleaner fuels that will come with a CFS incentive, particularly in the interim while new technology develops and commercializes, will continue to be a big part of the story.

Our commission and senior leadership at the Port take seriously our responsibility to the residents of the Puget Sound, and they expect us to operate the Port in a way that is equitable, environmentally sustainable and economically competitive. We have stated clearly: It is possible to clean up the air and water while operating a competitive global gateway but doing so requires an aggressive strategy and the policy tools to support that vision. Cleaner fuels must be part of the solution and getting there requires powerful policy incentives. HB 1091 is an essential element of the path toward drastically reducing the carbon intensity of the fuels that power Port-related planes, ships, and other vehicles.

We have the support of industry and an urgent call from community partners to clean up fuels that contribute to climate change and emit pollution into our neighborhoods. Let’s join the rest of the West Coast in supporting this critical policy and move Washington’s transportation sector to a low-carbon future.

Stephanie Bowman and Peter Steinbrueck are both elected commissioners at the Port of Seattle. They also serve as Managing Members of the Northwest Seaport Alliance, the marine cargo operating partnership of the ports of Seattle and Tacoma.