San Pedro Port ComplexWhen we think of environmental policies that impact business, we don’t often think of increased profits. Too often the private sector is positioned at odds with efforts to address environmental issues through state and federal legislation. But alternatives to this false dichotomy exist and it’s important that we identify and act on these opportunities.

As an example, let me point to the adjacent ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, which together make up the busiest container port complex in the Western Hemisphere. Last year, the ports moved the equivalent of nearly 15 million 20-foot-long containers. The ports contribute well over $100 billion and close to five million jobs to the national economy.

However, in the early 2000s, diesel emissions from the ports’ equipment, ships, trucks and trains had made the complex the largest single point generator of particulate and other diesel emissions in the Southern California region. A major problem was the tens of thousands of diesel trucks idling in long lines outside port terminals waiting to pick up cargo containers. As a member of the State Assembly I authored legislation reducing idle time outside the terminals to 30 minutes.

Despite the law, trucks continued to back up, mainly because the increasingly busy terminals were only open during the day. I challenged the ports to solve the problem or I would push through legislation to mandate terminals stay open longer. The ports and their stakeholders worked together to open the terminals at night, spreading out the traffic and cutting truck waiting times.

These and other measures led to a real shift in the entire culture at the ports–one focused on their environmental impacts. Today, the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles have cut diesel emissions by more than 80 percent. They are now environmental role models for ports throughout the world.

Importantly, the ports actually made their operations more efficient by “going green,” simply because efficient terminals meant less waiting and less waiting meant fewer emissions.

Are we doing enough to strike a balance between government regulation and industry-led solutions? What challenges exist to duplicating these successes elsewhere? If “self-regulation” is not successful, what is the appropriate role of government in facilitating these improvements?