Agreement details

Among the terms of the port’s extended air quality agreement:

Funding an ambient local air monitoring station that will measure air quality for a period of 23 months.

Replacing retired equipment with cleaner equipment.

Using electric gantry cranes for stacking containers at its proposed inland port in Greer.

Continuing to use ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel in all port-owned equipment and evaluate the use of cleaner fuels and new technologies.

Continuing periodic emissions inventories to quantify port-wide air emissions.

Source: State Ports Authority

The State Ports Authority recommitted to reducing air pollution at its terminals by extending a voluntary agreement with state environmental regulators, officials announced Tuesday.

Conceived in 2007 to improve air quality at SPA current and future facilities, the partnership with the state Department of Health and Environmental Control has helped reduce emissions from cargo-handling equipment and trucks, officials said.

The reaffirmed agreement, which runs through 2018, is marked as the state’s longest-running collaboration on air quality within the public sector, officials said.

The agreement also comes as neighborhood and environmental groups continue to complain about air pollution from cruise ships docked at the SPA’s Union Pier Terminal in downtown Charleston.

As part of the agreement with DHEC, SPA will commit to a series of measures to lessen pollution, and DHEC will provide technical assistance and expertise.

“Our partnership with DHEC is an integral part of our overall environmental efforts, recognizing that a healthy, working port and a cleaner environment can be mutually compatible goals,” said Jim Newsome, chief executive of SPA.

SPA and the Coastal Conservation League have an agreement that includes air monitoring at the Wando terminal. Air quality data was not available Tuesday.

In 2005, SPA conducted a baseline inventory measurement of port-related air quality from the sea buoy to the county lines of Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties. The review of the roughly 2,500-square-mile area showed port-related emissions accounted for 5 percent or less of total pollutants.

Allison Skipper, a spokeswoman for SPA, said “the air quality is meeting all state and federal standards.”

Still, SPA’s cruise operations in downtown Charleston has fueled a heated debate.

Neighborhood associations and environmental groups have accused cruise ships with spilling air pollution into neighboring areas as they dock at Union Pier with engines running.

The groups have filed state and federal lawsuits to block plans for a new cruise terminal, arguing that the facility will bring more tourists, traffic congestion and fumes to the historic district.

Carrie Agnew, executive director of the Charleston Communities for Cruise Control, said Tuesday that there’s still improvements needed.

“We are glad to see the SPA make strides on the cargo side and hope they will next address emissions from cruise ships, which pollute far more individually than cargo vessels here in Charleston,” Agnew said.

SPA has announced several measures to lessen pollution at its facilities, including phasing in cleaner equipment, switching to ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel in all port equipment, and instituting a truck replacement program in 2011 that offers incentives for short-haul drivers who travel back and forth from SPA terminals.

Earlier this year, DHEC awarded SPA $140,000 from a federal grant. That allowed SPA to offer $12,000 each to entice truckers to trade in pre-1994 rigs for newer and more fuel-efficient models.