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Ports take steps to reduce emissions with $12M infrastructure grant

A man stands with his hands crossed, semi-trailers are parked in the background.
Parker Miles Blohm
Dawit Habte is one of the short-haul (or drayage) truckers who serve the ports of Seattle and Tacoma. He says government support for the transition to electric trucks is critical, for the health of drivers, port neighbors and the planet.

Northwest Ports are working to phase out emissions from seaport-related activities by 2050. Seattle and Tacoma now have a $12-million-dollar federal infrastructure grant that moves them closer to that goal, with a focus on short-haul trucking. It was announced on January 11.

Currently, about 4,500 heavy-duty diesel trucks haul cargo from the ports of Seattle and Tacoma to nearby warehouses, with emissions that pollute nearby neighborhoods and warm the climate. Those emissions also pollute the immediate environment of the drivers while they’re on the job.

 “A lot of them are independent owner operators where they just own the one truck. Or they own two or three or four trucks,” said Steve Nicholas, project manager with the Northwest Seaport Alliance that oversees port cargo operations in Seattle and Tacoma.

Short-haul trucks are often second- or third-hand vehicles. New electric or hydrogen alternatives cost eight to ten times more than what’s currently in use. And there are no public charging infrastructure or hydrogen fuel stations yet. Nicholas said the Seaport Commission is committed to providing a just and equitable transition for the drivers.

“We want to help all 4,500 of these trucks get into zero-emission trucks by 2050 or sooner,” Nicholas said.

He said the $12 million is specifically for zero-emissions charging and fueling infrastructure. The ports are adding $3 million from the state’s Climate Commitment Act and calling for competitive bids from developers to build electric charging hubs. Port incentives will fund up to 50% of the total project costs.

 “So what we're going to do with this funding as we secure it is that we're going to stand up an incentive program and invite project proponents to come in and propose projects and use this incentive money to make things happen,” Nicholas said.

The Seaport Alliance has also used some of its Climate Commitment Act funding to convene the Puget Sound Zero-Emission Truck Collaborative to oversee the transition. It includes stakeholders at every level of the port cargo and trucking industry.

They expect developers to bring matching funds with their proposals since they too can qualify for generous federal subsidies currently available. They also have access to startup capital from investors in the fast-growing green energy sector. As such, Nicholas thinks it’s possible that the Seaport Alliance’s $15 million could fund more than one truck charging hub.

These typically include public charging stalls as well as some electric trucks that drivers can lease to get them into zero emissions vehicles more quickly.

“So we also buy trucks, and we sell truck plus charging together for a monthly fee. Our goal is always to try to meet or beat the cost per mile for diesel; under the right circumstances with the available incentives, we can do that,” said Adam Browning, with California-based hub developer Forum Mobility, which has a large project at the Port of Long Beach.

Forum Mobility is currently scoping out properties in and near the ports of Seattle and Tacoma, looking for possible hub locations with sufficient power to charge multiple trucks at once. Browning said the grid wasn’t designed with this use in mind, so that’s a potential choke point.

“Finding places on the distribution network where you can access these enormous amounts of power needed to charge up a significant number of trucks is very difficult,” he said.

Browning says Washington’s Climate Commitment Act and other state policies, such as a low-carbon fuel standard, make it possible for them to offer monthly rates that drivers can afford.

“And, again, our goal is to make this as easy as possible for the carriers so that they can focus on trucking. And we provide the electrical solutions,” he said.

The Seaport Alliance is hoping to issue its request for proposals by the middle of this year and to select developers by the end of the year. He thinks developers could get started on the region’s first electric charging hubs for heavy-duty trucks in 2025.

Many additional federal and local grants worth tens of millions of dollars will be needed to transition all 4,500 trucks to zero emissions. The overall cost is estimated at $2 billion.

Produced with assistance from the Public Media Journalists Association Editor Corps funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to