Looking east

The Port of Los Angeles recently has undergone a massive effort to reduce air pollution. Included in the strategy was a charge to truckers of $35 per 20-foot container if the engines in their rigs were made before 2007.

When officials at the Port of Los Angeles decided to launch a community outreach program, they looked all the way across the country to Charleston's comparatively smaller port.

Geraldine Knatz, executive director at the massive California operation, opened up the second day of the national American Association of Port Authorities conference Wednesday with a talk on balancing business with environmental and social obligations.

When smog became so problematic at the Port of Los Angeles that it threatened growth, her agency took drastic measures to cut air pollution.

Knatz outlined some of those strategies, including an initiative that charged truckers $35 per 20-foot container if the engines in their rigs were made before 2007.

Marketing-savvy businesses that operated or switched to more modern fleets were able to advertise that customers could avoid the surcharges by using them. Knatz noted that "anyone who continued to pay that fee for two years would need to have their head examined."

The port also funded a clean-running tug boat she called "the Prius of the seas." It is now testing a hydrogen fuel-cell electric hybrid big rig, and it is setting up solar panels to generate power from the sun at port facilities.

Knatz said her agency aimed to "make it more dangerous to drink a diet soda than breathe the air in San Pedro Bay."

But in terms of dealing with her port's neighbors, "I saw what Charleston had done, and I looked to that as a model," Knatz said.

Locally, the S.C. State Ports Authority pledged $4 million in community outreach funds as part of a broader $12 million effort to mitigate the impact of a new container terminal it is building on the former Navy base in North Charleston.

The money goes toward everything from affordable housing to business recruiting and health and fitness amenities for the seven neighborhoods closest to the project.

L.A.'s 7,500-acre, city-run port instead has adopted a formula that sets aside $2 to $3.50 per container when cargo volume exceeds specified levels, according to Knatz. The proceeds go toward initiatives that include paying for air filtration systems at nearby schools.

"It's an investment that gives the community a stake in the port growing," Knatz said.

Her talk at the Francis Marion Hotel introduced a panel discussion on environmental initiatives at ports in Charleston, Baltimore and Long Beach, Calif.

The SPA's environmental affairs manager, Jeannie Adame, explained her agency's 2-year-old "Pledge for Growth," including its oyster-bed reconstruction, its support of right-whale monitoring and its air emissions inventory.

Adame discussed the SPA's switch to ultra-low-sulfur diesel three years ahead of a federal mandate and its grant programs, including a truck rebate that generated 700 applications, requests that were 10 times greater than the available funding.

After explaining environmental programs at the Port of Baltimore, Maryland Port Administration chief of environmental initiatives Rick Sheckells said the success of those efforts might be measured best by how they engage the stakeholders or, put simply, the community.

Reach Allyson Bird at abird@postandcourier.com or 937-5594.