Northwest Ports Clean Air Strategy

Through early 2021, The Northwest Seaport Alliance, Port of Seattle, Port of Tacoma, and Port of Vancouver, British Columbia, are adopting the updated Northwest Ports Clean Air Strategy (NWPCAS), setting the direction for their air quality and sustainability programs for the next 30 years and beyond.

The new 2020 NWPCAS is an opportunity for ports to align emission reduction strategies with current policy, including the ports’ response to the Paris climate accord, align with current technology trends, increase stakeholder involvement, increase visibility and clarity around how emission reduction projects are prioritized, and improve flexibility in achieving performance-based targets.

What is the Northwest Ports Clean Air Strategy?

The NWPCAS is a collaboration between The Northwest Seaport Alliance and the ports of Seattle, Tacoma, and Vancouver, British Columbia, to voluntarily reduce seaport-related emissions that contribute to air pollution in the shared Puget Sound-Georgia Basin Airshed as well as climate change.

First adopted in 2008, the Strategy was the first international strategy of its kind in the Port community. The original Strategy sought to encourage environmental action above competition and created a means for the four Northwest Ports to work collectively and voluntarily to reduce air pollution.  

The NWPCAS has been developed in partnership with U.S. and Canadian government agencies including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Washington State Department of Ecology, Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, Metro Vancouver, Province of British Columbia, Transport Canada, and Environment Canada, with input from non-governmental organizations, near-port community groups, industry, and local governments. 

 The 2020 NWPCAS puts forward an ambitious new vision:  

To phase out emissions from seaport-related activities by 2050, supporting cleaner air for our local communities and fulfilling our shared responsibility to help limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C.

This vision advances the greenhouse gas emission reduction targets adopted by the Port of Seattle, Port of Tacoma, and NWSA via resolutions in 2017; aligns with the most recent climate science; recognizes the urgency to address environmental health disparities; and provides an ambitious but flexible timeframe for action. The Strategy also puts forward shared objectives and actions by the ports to advance the vision, metrics against which the ports will monitor and report annually on progress, and an adaptive management approach through which the ports will facilitate implementation of the Strategy while sustaining and enhancing commercial competitiveness.  Each of the participating ports is developing a separate implementation plan, customized to their respective lines-of-business and emissions profiles and detailing port-specific actions to advance the vision of the joint Strategy.  

The NWPCAS has provided a mechanism to ensure that through partnered action, environmental performance is not compromised, but driven forward over and above competing interests.

Scope of the Northwest Ports Clean Air Strategy

Map of emissions inventory boundary.

    The NWPCAS seeks to reduce emissions from key operational sectors including:

    • Ocean-going vessels
    • Drayage trucks
    • Cargo-handling equipment
    • Rail
    • Harbor vessels
    • Port admin and facilities

    To date, the NWPCAS has focused on diesel particulate matter (DPM), the key driver of air pollution related impacts in the Puget Sound region, and greenhouse gasses (GHGs). In the new 2020 NWPCAS, the ports place increased focus on other air pollutants and emissions that affect climate such as nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, and black carbon, while maintaining focus on DPM and GHGs.Operations within the “airshed” boundary are considered, with the U.S. ports focused on activities south of the border. A map of the airshed boundary on the right, the green shaded area is the U.S.-ports area of influence.

    Past versions of the NWPCAS have set sector specific as well as overarching emission intensity targets (emissions per ton of cargo moved). The emission intensity targets are as follows:

    • Reduce diesel particulate matter emissions per ton of cargo moved by 80% by 2020 relative to 2005 levels.
    • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions per ton of cargo moved by 15% by 2020 relative to 2005 levels.


      Clean air chart

      Since implementation of the NWPCAS began in 2008, substantial progress has been made toward the strategy goals. Progress has been documented in the annual Implementation Reports.

      As of the 2015-2016 emission inventories, the four port entities had collectively met the 2020 emission intensity targets, as shown in the graph. The U.S. ports estimate their emissions every five years in an effort called the Puget Sound Maritime Air Emissions Inventory.

      Shared Objectives

      To advance the vision, the Strategy sets join objectives that the Northwest Ports will work toward in each sector. The joint objectives follow three core themes:

      1. Implement programs that increase efficiency, phase out old, high-emitting equipment, and increase use of lower-emission fuels; 

      1. Facilitate collaboration among government, utilities, fuel providers, and industry to ensure the infrastructure needed to enable zero-emission technologies in in the place at the right time, addressing key constraints as soon as possible before 2030; and  

      1. Facilitate collaboration toward commercialization and drive adoption of zero-emissions technology before 2050.