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San Diego’s port is vying for federal dollars for clean energy upgrades

Federal infrastructure funds could help update the Port of San Diego, reducing pollution while streamlining operations, San Diego lawmakers said.

“With federal funding from the federal infrastructure the Port of San Diego can carry out much needed improvements to address supply chain issues and move goods,” said Rep. Juan Vargas, D-San Diego, at a press conference on the waterfront at National City in February.

The $1.2 trillion federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed last year includes $16 billion for ports and waterways throughout the country, said Rep. Scott Peters, D-San Diego. The money is aimed at modernizing facilities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and toxic air pollution while making port operations more efficient.

While some of the federal money will be distributed evenly among the states by funding formulas, other money will be available through competitive grants.

Officials said they’re confident the region could put up matching funds required for federal grants and establish the port’s critical role in West Coast trade. Peters said that was demonstrated during recent shipping backups, when the Port of San Diego helped absorb overflow traffic from Los Angeles and Long Beach.

“I personally know how vital the port’s work is to the entire region,” Peters said. “Now, because of the pandemic and its consequences, people understand that when outdated infrastructure collides with an economic and global downturn, we all feel the pinch.”

Local officials are working to secure funding for such port upgrades as shore power systems that would eliminate diesel exhaust from idling ships.

Switching docked ships from diesel to electric power would reduce emissions of black carbon, or soot, which is a key climate pollutant and airborne toxin that increases risks of asthma and other health problems, said Peters, a former chair of the Port Commission.

There’s one shore power station at the Port of San Diego cruise ship terminal and another under construction there, port officials said. Two more are planned for cargo ships and three for the terminal that receives auto shipments, they said.

Each shore power station costs about $6 million, and that cost could be covered through federal infrastructure money, Vargas said.

Federal infrastructure money also could help develop a system of barge transport to move goods up and down the West Coast, officials said. Such a system would be cheaper than truck freight and could relieve congestion on California highways, Vargas said.

“The U.S. has always used water for transportation,” he said, citing inland systems such as the Mississippi River and the Erie Canal in New York state. “It makes all the sense in the world, I think, to use the ocean.”

Port officials said they hope to win federal grants for other projects, such as replacing large diesel cranes with electric versions.

The port upgrades also are expected to generate new jobs, officials said. The maritime industry in San Diego now employs 13,000 people and generates billions for the local economy, Port Chairman Dan Malcolm said.



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