A capacity crowd packed the Banning’s Landing Community Center in Wilmington Wednesday evening in the heart of the port complex shared by Los Angeles and Long Beach to hear updates to the Clean Air Action Plan (CAAP) released last fall with residents from all around the region pressing the ports to implement changes sooner than the 2035 target date.
The updated CAAP was originally released in November with its plans outlining the ports’ goals of reducing emissions to zero by 2035 with incremental steps along the way including a target date of 2023 for “near zero emissions.” The changes are to impact nearly every transportation facet at the ports from the ships carrying cargo to the trains and trucks ferrying goods to and from the ships at berth.
However, the 2035 deadline for zero emissions did not sit well with an overwhelming majority of community members who pleaded for action to be taken sooner.
Person after person from cities ranging from South Los Angeles to San Pedro to Long Beach recalled a childhood where clean air was not guaranteed, with that fact carrying into their adult lives. They contended that if the technology exists now, regardless of costs, the ports shouldn’t wait until 2035 to get to zero emissions as proposed in the CAAP.
There were multiple tearful testimonies given by members of the public pleading for higher air quality to be brought to the region at a faster pace than outlined in the plan. One woman even went as far to dedicate her two minutes of public comment time to the relatives, friends and family members that she’s lost to chronic diseases like cancer, something she attributed to the notorious poor air quality that afflicts those residents who live near the port complexes.
Luis Flores recounted growing up next to the 110 Freeway, stating, “I might not know what clean air is.” Like many before him, he said if something could be done now to stem the respiratory damage being sustained by residents of surrounding neighborhoods, action should be taken now.
“The reality is we have an obligation as human beings if the technology exists, and it’s going to cost money, why do we have wait so long?” Flores said. “Human lives are on the line.”
Two sisters from Wilmington told the crowd that their five-year old sister can’t go outside and play because her asthma is exacerbated by the air quality surrounding their homes, and the oldest sister said that her high school softball team often has to cancel practice because of potential health risks caused by pollution.
Jim Stewart, a West Long Beach resident and co-chair of the Sierra Club’s California Energy-Climate Committee, said that “near zero” is a marketing scheme created by the natural gas industry and pointed to the recent storms in Texas to make his point that the country is in a climate crisis that needs zero emissions, not near zero emissions.
“You’re failing, we’re dying and it’s a crisis,” Stewart said to the Port staff giving the presentation.
Everything from on-dock transportation systems to truck turn times and the engines that transport the goods brought into the ports are addressed by the CAAP, with reductions aimed at zero by 2035. Few changes have been made to the original draft of the plan released late last year, with most of the changes lying in the language used.
For instance, the original text for the plan stated that all trucks needed to be near zero emissions by 2023 and zero emissions by 2035. However, the updated version of the plan unveiled Wednesday night showed that by 2023 the goal was for all trucks to be “near zero emission” and by 2035 all trucks should be zero emissions with a rate structure that would charge those that weren’t and exempt those companies that were in compliance.
Revelations like these roiled the crowd that largely spoke in favor of speeding up the process rather than providing exemptions to those that complied and charging those companies that operate at the port that can afford to continue polluting.
“It’s not an outright ban, and that’s something that we don’t have the jurisdiction to move forward with that without the state moving forward with that regulation,” said Port of Long Beach Environmental Planning Director Heather Tomley. “But what it does is provide an economic incentive.”
She said that the “dirty truck fee” from the last CAAP was the single most effective tool that the port witnessed, with the fee resulting in a turnover from dirty to cleaner trucks occurring two years sooner than the timeline laid out the first time around. She said the port thinks the proposed fee structure will have similar results this time around.
Trucks in particular, and who should shoulder the economic burden of replacing the older, higher polluting trucks with cleaner versions that will get the ports closer to zero emissions has been the subject of multiple strikes in recent months. A number of truck drivers spoke to this point, stating that they were in favor of clean air but that the port should do what it can to protect them from having to pay for the trucks that they need to work.
Tomley said the port will be seeking as much government funding to help subsidize the cost of the new cleaner trucks needed to get to zero emissions by 2035 but the rate structure and the fees assessed to non-compliant trucks will also be put toward helping with the purchase of newer ones.
While they demanded justice for those living nearest the port, those representing the industry argued that any changes at the port should be taken with a measured approach.
Greg Roche, a representative from Clean Energy, a natural gas corporation, said that the goals of the ports can be achieved quicker if a few tweaks were made to the plans. He proposed accelerating the timeline in which trucks would have to pay fees for not being compliant with the ports’ near zero or zero emission deadlines by five years, setting a standard for greenhouse gases no later than 2020 and taking funding for pilot programs of cleaner trucks to a crowdfunding effort rather than waiting for financing to be approved by Sacramento.
“If we do this, a child born today will go into kindergarten in five years breathing cleaner air rather than waiting until they’re in high school,” Roche said.
Erik Neandross, chief executive officer of Gladstein, Neandross & Associates, a consulting firm that specializes in alternative fuels, said that the ports’ plans are on the right path as new fuel cell and battery electric technologies will further reduce the emissions coming from the port complex. He said he was prompted to attend the meeting because of posts he saw on social media that were characterizing clean emission trucks as having the same polluting capacity as the diesel trucks that have been mostly phased out.
“We already have, in my opinion, one too many persons in this country that ignores science and uses social media to make scientific based arguments about the environment,” Neandross said. “One is too many. I think the community here should use data and facts to have an informed debate on how to get to clean air.”
The dual-ports revealed their plans in November 2016 where they estimated that to get to the goal of zero emissions it could cost upward of $14 billion. Both Mayor Robert Garcia of Long Beach and Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles have supported the plans to get to zero emissions.
The Port of LA recently announced that despite a record year in traffic its air emissions in every single category had dropped since 2015. The Port of Long Beach has also reported steep cuts in its greenhouse gas emissions and diesel particulates since the CAAP was instituted in the mid 2000s.
Long Beach, which lies to the east of the port complex and has its West Side residents sandwiched between the port and the 710 Freeway—the freeway is subject to a possible expansion—has an asthma rate that nearly doubles the county’s average and ranks among the highest when compared to most other cities in the United States.
The CAAP plan is still months away from having its final form presented to a joint panel of both ports for approval. That presentation is scheduled for November.
Tomley said the regular port board meetings—usually held every two weeks—are good opportunities for residents to continue to voice their opinions on the CAAP until then, adding that the port’s staff has about a dozen presentations planned for individual community groups over the next few weeks and will try to accommodate any additional requests they get between now and September 18th when the public comment portion closes.
How much will the document change between now and November has yet to be determined.
“We expect that we’re going to receive a lot more written comments up to the close of the comment period so we’re going to be evaluating all of that and taking it into consideration before we finalize the document,” Tomley said.
The Port of Long Beach Harbor Commission’s next board meeting is scheduled for September 11 and will be located at 4801 Airport Plaza Drive. Written comments can be emailed to [email protected]