Senator Alan Lowenthal brings us his thoughts about the steps we must take to clean up our air, before participating in the Long Beach Junior Chamber’s monthly Beer & Politics event. Don’t miss your chance to attend and discuss the issues with both Sen. Lowenthal and Mayor Bob Foster, at Gallagher’s Pub & Grill this Tuesday at 7:00pm.
I have been working on port pollution issues ever since I was elected to the Long Beach City Council in 1992. Back then the issue on most peoples’ minds was the annoying black soot that seemed to leave an oily layer of pollution on just about everything: windows, outdoor furniture, cars—you name it, that soot was indiscriminate. As it turns out, that fine soot was petroleum coke dust and it was coming from the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.
The Ports stored the petroleum coke, a byproduct of the oil refining process, in huge open piles that was easily carried into neighborhoods by offshore breezes. The solution was simple enough: cover the piles. Unfortunately, the Port of Los Angeles believed that would be too expensive and balked at the idea. At my urging, the City of Long Beach sued the Port. The Port of L.A. settled out of court and agreed to cover the coke piles. Not surprisingly, tests showed that levels of petroleum coke in the air declined and the community got some relief from the black soot. And somehow, the Port survived. Actually, it thrived.
Fast forward to 2002. That year, as a state Assemblymember, I introduced AB 2650, a bill that greatly reduced the idling times of trucks waiting to pick up cargo at the ports. Trucks used to wait, on average, one to two hours to pick up cargo. In the meantime, the dirty diesel trucks spewed toxic pollution into our air. At the time, the California Association of Port Authorities stated that the bill would lead to a massive diversion of cargo and the loss of thousands of jobs. The bill became law, diesel particulate matter was greatly reduced and the ports not only survived, they thrived.
In fact, the ports have more than doubled the number of containers since 2002, from 8.5 million to 17.1 million this year.
The latest “Chicken Little” impersonation revolves around the opposition of the Long Beach Chamber and multi-national businesses towards my bill that would impose a $30 per container fee on all containers entering and leaving the Ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oakland. According to multi-national owners of goods shipped through our ports, this bill will force the diversion of goods to other ports and cost the region thousands of jobs.
The Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles constitute, by far, the largest port complex in the United States, moving approximately 17 million twenty-foot equivalent (TEU) containers a year. To put that into perspective, the next largest port in the country is the Port of New York/New Jersey and it moves approximately 4.7 million TEU’s a year. Number three on the list is the Port of Oakland at 2.1 million TEU’s a year.
There are many reasons the Ports of L.A. and Long Beach are so much larger than any other port, and they are the same reasons they will continue to be the largest.
First, almost half of the goods are staying in the LA area. It would not make sense to ship the goods into the area from another part of the country at much greater expense.
Second, The LA/Long Beach ports have naturally deep harbors that can accommodate the new generation of mega container ships. Other ports on the West Coast cannot handle these ships without major dredging of their ship channels.
For these reasons and many others, the issues of job loss and cargo diversion make no sense. It is simply another scare tactic being used to cloud the real issue.
The real issue is the fact that people in our region are dying at an unacceptable rate. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) estimates 2,400 deaths a year are directly attributed to diesel pollution emanating from the ports. That is in addition to the $200 billion in additional health care costs that CARB attributes to goods movement over the next 15 years.
I am very supportive of the recent Clean Air Action Plan proposed by the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. While these plans are a major step forward in reducing air pollution due to goods movement, the fact remains that the plan will only succeed if fully funded. SB 974 is one of the possible solutions to answer the funding question.
It is time for local businesses to join with the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles and enter into productive discussions. We have an historic opportunity to get it right and to secure a healthy environment for our families.
Senator, 27th District
California State Legislature