- Paul Rosenberg
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Wide-ranging public objections ignored
By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor
On Nov. 2, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach approved an update to their Clean Air Action Plan in a public meeting that left many local residents deeply disappointed with the yawning gap between the lofty rhetoric and the grimy details.
“Today really is a day to celebrate,” Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka proclaimed.
But many public commentators disagreed.
Laura Cortez of East Yards Communities for Environmental Justice, summed up the feelings of many.
“When the new CAAP came out I was excited to see zero missions as a priority for this port complex,” Cortez said. “I now feel disappointed at the lack of follow-through with the excuse of technology neutrality and the expense of big business, and the feeling that this meeting is simply a formality, and that you have already made up your minds.”
“We are not looking to have close to zero-emissions what we want is zero-emissions,” said Evangelina Ramirez, who works with the Long Beach Alliance for Children With Asthma.
“This is supposed to be valid zero-emission plan that we’ve been waiting for,” said Morgan Wyen, of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “But instead, it treats zero-emission trucks and near-zero exactly the same, until it is too late, basically the last year of the deadline, 2035. It does not even meet the most basic requirements of the mayors’ joint declaration for, I quote, ‘measurable milestones to help ensure progress.’”
Instead of milestones, it offers only a range of projections. For trucks, these start with 1 to 14 percent zero-emission trucks in 2024, and conclude with 55 to 100 percent in 2036. Even then, the year after the stated goal date, non-zero-emission trucks will still be allowed at the ports, but will be charged a higher access rate.
Another major flaw is the failure to protect port truck drivers, who bore the lion’s share of the first Clean Trucks Program’s cost, due to illegal misclassification as ‘independent owner-operators’ and diabolic lease agreements. As things stand, they could be forced to buy near-zero trucks in the next few years, followed by zero-emission trucks in the decade after that. “Why is it that we have to pay for the clean air?” port trucker Manuel Rias asked during public comment.
He did not receive an answer.
“A truck driver doesn’t properly stop at a sign in the ports and we are banned,” port trucker Seko Vaina said. “So, if companies doing business in the ports are to abide by local state and government law, then why are these companies not banned?”
He, too, received no answer.
Renée Florez is a port trucker who was fired after sharing his story with USA Today, losing all the equity in his truck — an arrangement based on violating both state and federal labor laws, yet it would still be allowed under the new CAAP.
“For four-and-a-half years I had to pay for a truck which was supposed to be for clean-air,” Florez said. “Working 20 hours a day, six days a week. And even then I wasn’t able to pay the high cost for this clean air truck.”
“I lost my house and health behind the first program,” trucker Tracy Ellis said. “You are getting away with murder.”
While the mayors of Los Angeles and Long Beach, Eric Garcetti and Robert Garcia, were overwhelmingly upbeat in their assessments, delivered at the start of the meeting, mayors from two nearby cities struck a decidedly different tone, which was echoed in many public comments.
“My constituents don’t want to wait 17 years for clean air, they expect clean air now,” Montebello Mayor Vivian Romero said.
Her city is surrounded by four freeways.
“I have three inhalers that I have to live with on a daily and a regular basis,” she said, holding up her inhalers for everyone to see. “It’s not the trucker’s fault, it’s the fuel that is the problem here. They need to bring the goods into the interior of the country, but it’s being subsidized by lungs like mine and the overall health of my residents, and all of our community’s residents.”
South Gate Mayor Maria Davila struck a similar theme.
“I represent a community with the highest level of asthma, diabetes and obesity,” she said. “I lost a husband from asthma and I have three kids with asthma. It’s very personal to me to be here and to ask you to please take action now to make this possible earlier than later…. We need clean air now.”
Joe Lyou, a board member at the South Coast Air Quality Management District, was more measured, but also disappointed. He cited three significant failings in the plan. First, enforceable reductions in nitrogen oxide emissions.
“That’s what we need at South Coast [Air Quality Management District] and that’s what we need to prove to the [Environmental Protection Agency] that we can provide,” he said. “I also would have preferred a set of detailed interim and credible milestones that would have put us on a path to your zero-emission goals…. Those are outstanding goals, but we really need to know how we’re going to get there. Unfortunately, these things aren’t in the plan.”
Lyou acknowledged that the port board members “could think it would be a little too much to make those changes right now,” but did have a third missing piece that was easily fixed.
“You can agree that you will set your heavy duty truck access rate in a way that will encourage and prioritize the replacement of the oldest trucks, the 2007 to 2009 trucks that are on the road today,” he said. By committing to this graduated rate — that is lower for the newer trucks and higher for the older trucks —you help get the oldest and most polluting trucks off the road sooner, rather than later.”
The early testimony was dominated by paid industry representatives, most representing or supporting natural gas. But two such speakers disrupted things a bit.
First, Tom Fulks from the Diesel Technology Forum spoke to “express our appreciation for your balanced approach to reducing emissions,” thus making a mockery of everyone else using the bogus “balanced approach” narrative. He then showed how twisted “balance” can become, saying, “The old diesel, we agree, needs to be cleaned up.” He also called “clean” diesel “the preferred technology for truckers,” even though almost all truckers have zero say about what sort of truck they drive.
On the opposite extreme, Daniel Witt, from Tesla, said that their new heavy duty model would be “unveiled in a couple of weeks,” and that “Zero-emission technology is going to be here a lot sooner than people realize. It’s going to be a true economically viable alternative to the technologies that have the greatest market share today.”
“You have a responsibility today, that for our children in our communities, this plan needs to go further,” said Sylvia Betancourt, Long Beach Alliance for Children With Asthma project director. “We know a lot of work went into it, but zero emissions technologies do exist…. You heard a lot of commentary from natural gas, but that is just the detour on our way to what we know is a viable technology.”
“This is not the ‘Nearly Clean Air Action Plan,’ it is the Clean Air Action Plan and we need to get to electrification as soon as possible,” said Carrie Scoville, who represented Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council on the Port Community Advisory Committee for about a decade. “Transit agencies across [Los Angeles] County are already there. Foothill Transit already has electric buses. We have, in Southern California, Proterra, Kinkisharyo, BYD, Complete Coach Works. These are all companies that are building electric buses here, now, today to meet the demand of Los Angeles transit agencies. We also have Phoenix Cars that builds electric flatbed trucks. We have US Hybrid which builds semis, hybrids and fuel-cell trucks. It’s already here. Why are we talking about natural gas?”
“I disagree with the statement that the CAAP is technology neutral,” said Sherry Lear, co-organizer of 350 South Bay Los Angeles, a climate action group that also works on environmental justice issues. “The CAAP should not be technology neutral… You should be advancing and promoting the cleanest energy technology that we have to get zero-emissions as quickly as possible. We can electrify the port from its rail system, to its crane operations, to — as we heard from Tesla — electric big rigs…. We have this technology.
“The City of LA, the County of LA are going to have 100 percent electric buses here in the next few years. There’s no reason we can’t be doing this with technology across the board, including the big rig trucks.”
Richard Havenick, a key San Pedro activist who relentless pushed the transition to low-sulfur ship fuel, raised the issue of inaction with regard to ships.
Existing ships can be modified to achieve Tier 3 reductions [far below Tier 2 levels]. Ships remain the top contributor — particulate matter, nitrogen oxide, sulfur oxide, hydrocarbon — those are the top contributors,” he said. “Work with [California Air Resource Board], ARB is your friend. That’s not in your plan.”
Peter Warren, with the San Pedro Peninsula Homeowners Coalition, echoed others’ call for zero-emission milestones, but pointed to deeper methodological and governance problems as well.
“The ports must change reporting in the CAAP with regard to air quality,” Warren said. “Repeated comparisons to and use of the 2005 baseline is deceptive…. This decade-old baseline allows the ports today to report major percentage declines in nitrogen oxide and particulates, but that progress ended in 2010. Since 2011 air quality measures have been static, according to the ports’ own annual survey. Air quality has not improved in the past seven years. We need honest reporting.
“Most importantly, the CAAP fails to create a vigorous and transparent monitoring of compliance. The China shipping scandal shows the ports can and will provide to industry secret waivers to mitigation rules and agreements — in the case of China Shipping, even a court-approved settlement was secretly violated for years. We need compliance monitoring…. The ship plan has gone backwards in the CAAP process. The ships are the largest sources of nitrogen oxide and particulate matter, technology exists today to reduce at-dock pollution, either through AMP [electric power] or bonneting [capturing emissions]. We need funding to support this. It should be deployed now.”
In the end, Laura Cortez appeared to proven correct, that the meeting was simply a formality, and that commissioners had made up their minds. Perhaps most tellingly, an unfazed Commissioner Anthony Pirozzi returned to two key problematic themes that much of the testimony had challenged — “balance” and “technological neutrality.” He mentioned the first only briefly, before saying, “One of the elements of this CAAP that I believe is important to reiterate and that is that it’s technology neutral. You don’t want to pick one over the other, because something new may come around.”
He then gave a brief Wikipedia-style history lesson. In the late 1800s, when lamps were gas-powered, “Thomas Edison came along, he created DC or direct current, which was made the standard at that time, and imagine if it was the standard today,” Pirozzi said. “Who changed that standard? Nikola Tesla. He came here as an immigrant from Europe and created an alternate current. So, today who did we hear from on a technology that’s coming in the future? The company name Tesla. Now you know why they’re called ‘Tesla.’ It’s a great story.”
A great story? Yes. But Pirozzi was quite literally using it to argue for the continued use of gas. You know—the light source before the source from Tesla. It’s a perfect illustration of just how muddled the port’s thinking continues to be on the most important issue of our time.
The plan was approved unanimously.