False Idles (A reprint of Vol. XV, Art. 8 … Five years ago today.)

This following is from the front page story for April 11th on the Truckinginfo.com website:

“Pennsylvania Considers Anti-Idling Law”

“Both the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association want to see some changes in a bill proposed in Pennsylvania to limit idling time of commercial diesel-powered trucks.

“Both groups were among those testifying before the House Transportation Committee Thursday in regard to Senate Bill 295.

“The state Environmental Protection Department, while it ‘fully supports the concept of statewide idling restrictions to limit emissions from diesel-powered commercial vehicles,’ recommended that owners and operators of locations where diesel-powered vehicles load, unload and park – shippers, receivers, truckstop owners, etc. – be held accountable for causing delays that result in excessive idling. DEP also wants to see the fines increased significantly to coincide with penalties already in place in certain parts of Pennsylvania and neighboring states. And the agency wants the flexibility to assess civil penalties or fines for idling restrictions under the existing framework of the Air Pollution Act …”

Late last month in a related event, and to the astonishment of many, “Big John” steamed up the Delaware River and berthed at a pier in Philadelphia. “Big John”, of course, is none other than the 85,000-ton USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67), as formidable a vessel as ever sailed the seven seas.

A “related event” did we say? Yes, because both are connected with the promotion of the Port of Philadelphia as a mega-port. Consultants, you’ll recall, have convinced unwary maritime workers that hundreds of millions of dollars should be anted-up to dredge the length and breadth of the Delaware in order to accommodate giant container ships. Only then, the promoters say, will the Port of Philadelphia attain its rightful place as a worthy 3,500,000 TEU challenger to the Port of NY/NJ.

“Dredging = Jobs” is the battle cry. 100,000 new jobs would be generated by the proposed dredging project, and no dredging meant no mega-ships, and therefore, no jobs. Giant vessels simply cannot transit the Delaware, they insisted, unless that 108-mile passageway is dredged. Period.

“Big John”, however, is as big as any vessel afloat, and it navigated the river with plenty to spare. So did the “Big U”, by the way, the giant SS United States, that’s comfortably berthed at Pier 82. And right across the way, in Camden, rests one of the mightiest vessels ever built, the breathtaking USS New Jersey (BB-62).

But let’s not confuse those “Dredging = Jobs” promoters with facts. They are obsessed with the idea that the unwary need to be convinced that only the arrival of giant container ships will create jobs.

But there’s a chink in their armor. The easy passage of the above-mentioned vessels, along with the proposed Anti-Idling Law, has forced the Delaware River Marine Trade Association (PMTA) to lower its sights. Although fully supportive of the maritime consultants they engaged to promote dredging, the PMTA is modifying its stance. Or rather, is trying to modify its stance.

For those promoting the development of a “world-class port”in Philadelphia, an Anti-Idling Law will be a blow to the breadbasket … the final nail in the coffin. One of the biggest problems faced by large container ports is the hundreds of idling diesel-burning trucks jockeying for position, hour-after-hour, at terminal gates, and no workable solution has been found in spite of the fact that billions of dollars are being allocated to address this health-threatening situation in port communities.

The consultants hired by the PMTA, you’ll recall, convinced all listeners … mainly the unemployed … that 3,500,000 TEUs annually would be handled by a Philadelphia mega-port. Not once was a down-side considered. Not once did any of those paid consultants mention the fact that traffic conditions would be intolerable, whether those 3.5 million TEUs were freighted by train or by truck.
Containers delivered by rail entail mile-long trains delaying, and even tying up, commuter traffic at dozens of rail crossings throughout port communities. That wasn’t mentioned when promoters were inciting maritime workers a few months ago.

On the other hand, along with the well-publicized traffic congestion caused in and around the Los Angeles/Long Beach port complex when containers are delivered by truck, studies have shown that air pollution caused by those trucks has resulted in the premature deaths of thousands every year. The “world-class” Philadelphia mega-port promoters also failed to mention that.

In a surprising retreat, the head of the PMTA recently stated that, “With world trade expecting to double in the next seven to 15 years, there is not enough maritime land available to meet the demands of the industry … Our roads are overburdened with trucks and cause more air pollution than any other mode of transportation. The states have no money for new roads and hardly can keep up with the repairs of these roads and their bridges … The cheapest way of moving goods is by water. Ports are going green further reducing air pollution. All of this is great news for us. Let us not abandon the river that has built this region.”

And in full retreat, the head of the PMTA turned his gaze southward, confidently pointing out that … “in South Jersey there is nearly an additional 250 acres available; while moving the Port of Wilmington into the Delaware River could give us an additional 350 acres.”

What an interesting reversal of form. We met with that PMTA president a few months ago and proposed the development of moderately-sized container ports in South Jersey and Delaware, but we were shot down at that meeting by one of the “consultants” engaged by the PMTA.

“Big John”, the “Big U”, BB-62, and the PMTA president’s new statement, however, justify our endorsement of small ports along the Delaware rather than gridlock and pollution in Philadelphia. But we won’t rub it in by saying, “We told you so.”… not while the promoters are eating crow.