Merkley, Colleagues Introduce Groundbreaking Legislation to Make America’s Ports Climate-Friendly

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley is leading four of his colleagues in introducing the Climate Smart Ports Act of 2020—legislation to create a $1 billion per year federal program dedicated to improving sustainability measures throughout America’s ports. The legislation has also been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congresswoman Nanette Diaz Barragn (D-CA-44).

The bill would assist ports and port users by replacing cargo handling equipment, port harbor craft, cargo delivery trucks, and more with zero emissions equipment and technology. The bill would also help ports develop onsite clean energy microgrids to power their facilities and equipment, and authorizes an additional $50 million per year for the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) to be spent specifically on reducing port emissions.

“This commonsense legislation is a win-win-win—helping marginalized communities breathe cleaner air, protecting our planet for generations to come, and creating reliable, high-paying jobs for our workers,” said Merkley, who is a member of the Senate Environmental Justice Caucus. “I’m pleased to be teaming up with Congresswoman Barragn in urging our colleagues to stand up for environmental justice, climate action, and job creation by making our ports stronger and more sustainable.”  

“Ports are job creators, but also major sources of air pollution with serious public health consequences, particularly for the communities of color that tend to live nearby. The people in these neighborhoods live close to working diesel trucks, ships, trains, and cargo-handling equipment spewing poisons into our air and water. And we’ve paid the price. By greening our ports, we can tackle this environmental injustice,” Congresswoman Nanette Diaz Barragán said. “We are often given a false choice between a clean, healthy environment and a strong economy. With the Climate Smart Ports Act, we don’t have to choose.”

The introduction comes amid projections that greenhouse gas pollution from ocean vessels at sea, as well as mobile sources at ports, are on the rise. The Climate Smart Ports Act of 2020 would help reduce those emissions by helping ports overcome upfront costs of truck, cargo equipment and train upgrades, and will create new, good-paying jobs in the process. Specifically, the bill will require payment of a local prevailing wage for work performed with federal funds, encourage project labor agreements and local hiring, give preference to equipment produced in the United States, and includes language protecting dock workers from automation.

Not only is the legislation an important step forward in the fight to address climate chaos and boost port economies, it is a significant down payment on addressing environmental justice issues that are prevalent in port communities. Nearly 40% of Americans live within three miles of a port, and many of these communities are low income communities and communities of color that have to deal with high-emitting diesel trucks, ships, trains, and cargo handling equipment. To ensure that money in this program finds its way to communities that need it the most, the bill sets aside a minimum of 25% of funding for areas in non-attainment with Clean Air Act criteria pollutants. In addition, applications for grant funding are scored in part on how they will reduce public health disparities in communities and reduce toxic air pollution.

“We applaud the introduction of Climate Smart Ports Act sponsored by Senator Jeff Merkley,” said ILWU International President William Adams. “The legislation strives for a clean environment at our ports without sacrificing good paying union jobs. We look forward to working with Senator Merkley in the Senate and the House sponsor, Rep. Nanette Barragn during the legislative process.”

“Over a hundred million Americans, many of them people of color and low income residents, live within a few miles of a port and breathe the dirty diesel pollution these facilities pump into our air. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The Climate Smart Ports Act will put people back to work at high-end jobs that deliver clean air to everybody. We need that now more than ever, as we’ve lost over 600,000 clean energy jobs in the last several months alone. Earthjustice thanks Senator Merkley and his colleagues for working to strengthen our health and our economy by electrifying our ports,” said Adrian Martinez, staff attorney on Earthjustice’s Right to Zero Campaign.

“The Climate Smart Ports Act makes critical investments that will make us stronger by creating good-paying jobs, reducing harmful air pollution, and cutting greenhouse gas emissions at our nation’s ports. We applaud the leadership of Senator Merkley on this issue and look forward to working with him to build a clean energy future that benefits everyone,” said Mitch Jones, Policy Director, Food & Water Action.

“The Oregon Public Ports Association applauds Senator Merkley’s leadership and foresight with this important legislation.  Ports and the maritime industry are shipping and delivering globally traded commodities and keeping supply chains open in the most efficient and least carbon intensive manner today amongst various transportation sectors.  However, that doesn’t mean that mean we can’t do better. Senator Merkley’s Climate Smart Ports Act will provide important incentives to Oregon’s ports to further reduce our carbon footprint, create new efficiencies, while also delivering the goods and supplies ensuring that economy can continue to expand,” said Mark Landauer, Executive Director of the Oregon Public Ports Association.

“We are pleased by Senator Merkley’s ongoing efforts to promote the success of our nation’s ports, while prioritizing environmentally sound legislation to minimize the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions,” said John Burns, CEO of the Oregon International Port of Coos Bay. “Ports are economic drivers in the communities and regions where they operate.  It is critical that they continue to facilitate the flow of commerce while investing in a greener tomorrow.”

“Emission reduction efforts at ports differ drastically in the U.S. and are often insufficient. It is time for the goods movement industry to embrace 21st century technologies that will improve the health and lives of those living near ports. The Climate Smart Port Act’s investment in green infrastructure funding will help the industry shed its dependence on dirty diesel and move toward a cleaner future,” said John Kaltenstein, Deputy Director of Oceans & Vessels at Friends of the Earth.

“We need to cut toxic air pollution and carbon emissions from our ports. The health of our families and our climate depend on reducing air pollution by advancing zero-emissions technologies in a manner that advances equity and justice while creating a clean economy that works for all. That’s what the Climate Smart Ports Act promises to do, and we hope Congress moves quickly to pass it,” said Marc Boom, Director of Federal Affairs, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

“Black, Brown, and low-income communities across America are in dire need of more champions like Senator Merkley, who understand that we cannot address climate change without also tackling the economic inequality created by an over-investment in the dirty-fuel economy and underinvestment in communities of color,” said Michelle Romero, National Director of Green For All, a program of Dream Corps. “The Climate Smart Ports Act addresses long-standing issues faced by communities that have been hardest hit by transportation pollution, with solutions that upgrade critical infrastructure while improving both the health and the wealth of surrounding communities. Those same communities disproportionately work in low-paying, low-skill jobs and disproportionately make up the 2.3 million Americans locked behind bars. That’s why we also applaud the provision that establishes incentives to hire formerly incarcerated job-seekers. Legislation like the Climate Smart Ports Act will bring more good jobs, better health, and greater economic opportunity to Black, Brown and low-income communities – solving both poverty and pollution at the same time. We strongly endorse this legislation and urge the Senate to include it in any forthcoming infrastructure package.”

The Climate Smart Ports Act is endorsed by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), Moving Forward Network, Earthjustice, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, League of Conservation Voters, Environmental Defense Fund, Food & Water Action, Greenpeace, Eastyard Communities for Environmental Justice, Friends of the Earth, Jobs to Move America CA, the American Lung Association, Indivisible San Pedro, the San Pedro & Peninsula Homeowners Coalition, Green For All, Union of Concerned Scientists, by Humankind, Oregon Public Ports Association (OPPA), International Port of Coos Bay, and Port of Portland.

The legislation is cosponsored by Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) in the Senate, and Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI-13), Jared Huffman (D-CA-2), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC-At Large), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL-23), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL-9), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA-47), Jamie Raskin (D-MD-8), Ed Case (D-HI-1), Adam Smith (D-WA-9), Yvette Clarke (D-NY-9), Nydia Velazquez (D-NY-7), Harley Rouda (D-CA-48), Stephen Lynch (D-MA-8), Joe Kennedy lll (D-MA-4), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA-7), Cedric Richmond (D-LA-2), Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE-At Large), Chellie Pingree (D-ME-1), Alcee Hastings (D-FL-20), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR-1), Barbara Lee (D-CA-13), Annie Kuster (D-NH-2), Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ-3), and Mike Levin (D-CA-49) in the U.S. House of Representatives.