The California Air Resources Board (CARB) and other California agencies issued the 2016 “California Sustainable Freight Action Plan” (Action Plan), “an unprecedented effort, intended to integrate investments, policies, and programs across several State agencies to help realize a singular vision for California’s freight transport system.”

The Action Plan says, “California has … set new, aggressive targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 in order to combat climate change. Reducing emissions in the freight sector is critical to meeting these 2030 targets.”

However, the Action Plan does not recognize the potential of ships and tug/barges to significantly reduce emissions. One small, coastal ship can transport over 300 containerized truckloads utilizing 10% of the horsepower and generating as much as 80% less emissions than trucks.

The Action Plan expects sustainable freight transport objectives to be achieved primarily by truck and rail, but maritime transportation can play a major role.

The Action Plan goes on to say, “California’s freight transportation system has already successfully undergone major improvements towards shared efficiency and environmental objectives. Proposition 1B passed by voters in 2006, provided almost $20 billion in funding for California transportation infrastructure, with over $2 billion dedicated to the improvement of the State’s freight network and $1 billion in funding for cleaner freight vehicles and equipment.”

The Action Plan praised the role of California’s largest ports: “Large ports have adopted clean air action plans and many regional planning organizations have adopted regional freight plans that prioritize infrastructure improvements.”

The Action Plan highlights the efforts of the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach where improvements include automated cranes, deeper berths, expanded on-dock rail, a solar-powered microgrid and zero and near-zero emission vehicles. These investments “increase the capacity and throughput of terminals, reduce truck trips, and improve air quality near the ports.”

The Action Plan also cites the efforts of The Pasha Group and Long Beach Container Terminal (LBCT).

The result is that the Ports and their partners “have invested billions of dollars in advanced technology to improve efficiency, competitiveness, and air quality at west coast seaports.”


The 2016 Action Plan does not recognize the potential of ships and tug/barges to move large volumes of freight by water generating low to zero emissions. The California Air Resources Board’s “Sustainable Freight: Pathways to Zero and Near-Zero Emissions (discussion draft dated April, 2015)” was used as the basis for the 2016 Action Plan. Unfortunately, it did not include the latest data on improvements in ship designs, performance, fuel-savings and emission reductions.

In the 2015 draft, CARB did not account for new developments in marine propulsion and shipping: On pages 59-60 of the 2015 CARB draft, emission projections for ocean-going vessels (OGV) are based on the 2011 CARB report entitled, “Emissions Estimation Methodology for Ocean-Going Vessels”, in which the footnotes and references related to vessel emissions are based on 2008 data and earlier.[1]

Examples of deficiencies in CARB’s analyses are as follows:

1) The CARB 2011 report lists the average container ship speed as 23 knots (see page D-13), but today most container ships have slowed their speeds down to around 16 knots which substantially reduces ship fuel consumption and emissions.

2) The 2011 report reference to ‘Hoteling’ on page D-11 does not discuss or account for emission reductions achieved by shore power, which are electrical connections between ships and harbor berths, such as at Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oakland. It is a CARB mandate that many ship engines must be shut down and powered by shore-side power, so as to reduce emissions in California ports.

3) A battery-powered ferry, the Ampere, is operating in Norway and could provide ideas for zero-emission waterborne applications in California.[2]

4) Similarly, a new Scandlines hybrid ferry service using battery-powered ships operates between Denmark and Germany.[3] The batteries are made by Corvus Energy and were featured at a hybrid ship exposition in Amsterdam last June.

5) Since 2008, there have been major changes in ship designs and construction of mega-container ships that further reduce fuel consumption and GHG emissions.

6) The cumulative effect of these omissions is that CARB needs to revise its emission projections for ocean-going vessels and reconsider the viability of ships and tug/barges for sustainable freight services in California.

Also, the Port of Stockton commissioned a study on the potential impact of the M-580 tug/barge service that carried containerized truckloads between the Ports of Stockton and Oakland until 2014. The study found that the tug/barge had the capacity to reduce GHG and other emissions by 79% per containerized truckload, even when powered by diesel fuel.[4]

The fundamental reason why ships and tug/barges are ideal sustainable freight transport candidates is that they require substantially less horsepower than trucks for long-haul transportation:

One ship carrying 331 forty-foot containers is powered by a 13,142 horsepower engine.[5] Transporting a similar load by road would require 331 trucks, each powered by a 375 horsepower engine, and requires 124,125 horsepower.

The only reference to the potential of maritime transportation in the 2016 Action Plan occurs in an appendix on page E-1, which states under the heading ‘Inland Marine Corridors’: “A barge service moving among the ports of Oakland, Stockton, and West Sacramento holds promise for increased freight volumes and capacity. Public and private benefits could include reduced emissions and congestion on nearby Interstate 580 corridor. The barge service also offers an opportunity for the State to establish a zero or near-zero emission freight corridor, with the use of low emission marine vessels.”


The impetus for the sustainable freight transport report and plan was California Governor Edmund G. Brown’s executive order B-32-15. Issued in July 2015, it provides “a vision for California’s transition to a more efficient, more economically competitive, and less polluting freight transport system.”

As a first key step, the Governor’s executive order directed the California State Transportation Agency, California’s Environmental Protection Agency, CARB and others to develop a California Sustainable Freight Action Plan by 2016: “This Action Plan is an unprecedented effort, intended to integrate investments, policies, and programs across several State agencies to help realize a singular vision for California’s freight transport system.”

The Action Plan includes recommendations on the following:

  • A long-term 2050 Vision and Guiding Principles for California’s future freight transport system.
  • Targets for 2030 to guide the State.
  • Opportunities to leverage State freight transport system investments.
  • Actions to initiate over the next 5 years.
  • Pilot projects to achieve progress.
  • Additional concepts for further exploration.

The Action Plan is not intended to replace plans such as the California Freight Mobility Plan or other regional goods movement plans. Rather it is intended to provide “a new perspective regarding the sustainability of the freight system.”


The Action Plan notes that the Governor’s executive order emphasizes the need to transition to a more efficient and less polluting freight transport system:

  • Preserving and enhancing freight infrastructure
  • Increasing system efficiency and capacity
  • Improving safety and security
  • Reducing exposure to air toxics
  • More protective air quality standards
  • Climate change goals

Governor Brown further identified five key climate change strategies to help achieve 2030 emission targets:

  • Reducing petroleum use in cars and trucks by up to 50 percent.
  • Increasing the amount of electricity derived from renewable sources to 50 percent.
  • Doubling the efficiency savings achieved at existing buildings.
  • Reducing emissions of short-lived climate pollutants.
  • Managing natural and working lands so they can store carbon.






[4] Port of Stockton, “Air Quality/Greenhouse Gas Technical Report for the Short-Sea Shipping Project” (2010)

[5] 9800 KW engine = 13,142 horsepower see: