Port authority in Detroit presents roadmap to decarbonizing operations

Theresa Landrum knows a thing or two about living in poor air quality. She's been breathing it in while living in Detroit all her life.

The community activist and president of Original United Citizens of Southwest Detroit lamented on Monday about the childhood that local kids spend surrounded by dirty air and the harmful chemicals produced in parts of the city. 

"Detroit has been suffering in latter years with some of the worst air quality in the nation," she said.

But on this Earth Day, Landrum spoke against the backdrop of an encouraging sign that sources of pollution in the legacy city could be changing their tune. She stood alongside the executive director of the Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority as it worked to implement its own changes.

"We're seeing it in other regions around the country where there's been a big shift to battery electric vehicles, air quality is improving and that's important for us today," said Mark Schrupp.

Schrupp announced the results of a study that sought to better understand the volume of emissions that come from the region's ports, as well as its plan to decarbonize its operations within the next two and a half decades.

But if progress doesn't start soon, Schrupp said it'll be too late.

"Our citizens can't wait until 2040," he said.

Working with Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision and Tunley Environmental, a consulting firm, the port authority announced steps to lower emissions in the hope of assisting the larger goal of reducing climate change, as well as the local objective of making it safer to live in the city.

That starts with identifying where pollutants come from, which includes fuel burned from ships, in the cargo-handling equipment, and the trucks that haul the equipment away. Other places where emissions come from include tug boats, army corp of engineer work, as well as vessels that dock at its ports.

The port handles about 10 million tons of cargo a year. A good way of visualizing the 28,000 tons of carbon dioxide that's produced at the port is by thinking of the NFL Draft.

"If you compress it into a single space it would be about the size of 39 ford fields so that's a lot of carbon dioxide," said Emily Alexander, of Tunley Environmental, a consulting firm.

The port authority isn't implementing any mandates, but they are offering a guide for reducing emissions.

"We are seeking grants to add electric forklifts to move trucks to our port operations, solar panels on our roofs to increase the amount of zero emission electricity we generate, and to expand our capability to fuel shipments with lower emission fuels like biodiesel," said Schrupp.