Job Killer or Opportunity to Help Clean Up L.A.’s Filthy Air ?

Senator Alan Lowenthal has served in the California Legislature since 1998. He served six years in the State Assembly and was elected in 2004 as the senator from the 27th Senatorial District, representing the communities surrounding the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
He is a committed and strong voice for reasonable yet firm environmental protections, especially when dealing with issues of public health and air quality specifically. His SB 974 has engendered a full-scale push-back from big businesses both state-wide and nationally. In typical hyperbolic and hysterical fashion, these companies (which read like a Fortune 500 company who’s who) claim that the measure will destroy business in California. As Senator Lowenthal explains below, this is typical business balony…..
What they don’t, and can’t do is deny the health problems they create or encourage when they deny any responsibility for the mess their current transportation practices engender. This measure will split a mere $30 per container use fee equally between air quality mitigation measures, such as the replacement of dirty diesel trucks and infrastructure improvements such as rail grade separations.
It all boils down to these big Fortune 500 companies, and their cronies, wanting to maintain the status quo which allows emitting filthy and noxious diesel fumes into the air and sustaining gridlock. Rather than addressing and trying to solve the very real issues of LA’s deadly air quality, they prefer forcing California’s residents to continue suffering so the rest of the country can have cheap goods. Who ultimately pays the price? In SB 974,Senator Lowenthal says it shouldn’t be the health and well-being of Californians. This measure is moving its way toward the Governor’s desk. He vetoed a similar measure last year. This time, we’re hoping a groundswell of public support will force Schwarzenegger to do the right thing for the people of our state. Here are Senator Lowenthal’s thoughts on the issue:

Imagine for a moment living in the midst of a toxic cloud of lethal smog that cuts visibility to a couple of blocks. Or trying to enjoy an evening picnic in Orange County but being chocked out by the 1 million rubber and oil burning “smudge” pots used by orange farmers to keep their orchards warm. If you were around Los Angeles and Orange Counties in 1943 you would not have had to imagine it, it was reality.
An L.A. Times article from July 26, 1943 reported that visibility due to smog in downtown Los Angeles was 3 blocks. It also turned out to be a watershed moment in the fight to clean the Los Angeles basin’s air.
Due to the toxic air quality, L.A. city and county leaders created the country’s first unified air pollution agency and instituted tough new discharge regulations. They also drew the ire of powerful industries who warned that the regulations would lead to a massive loss of jobs. It may have been the first time that business leaders warned of job loss due to air quality regulations but it was certainly not the last.
These same business interests warned that the catalytic converter would end driving as we know it. They warned that Californians wouldn’t stand for reformulated, cleaner burning gasoline and they lamented the demise of the backyard barbeque when they were forced to change the chemical make-up of charcoal lighter fluid. While none of these apocalyptic warnings have come true, it has not stopped industry from claiming the sky truly is falling this time.
Their latest “chicken little” impersonation revolves around SB 974, my bill which would impose a $30 per container fee on all containers entering and leaving the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. According to business interests 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 15.5 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. This is extremely time consuming and expensive. Oakland is hoping to have their ship channel dredged by 2012. Until then they cannot accommodate these new ships.
For these reasons and many others, the issue of loss of jobs and diversion of cargo 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 attributable 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.
Thirty dollars per container is a very small price to pay in order to clean up our deadly air and speed the movement of goods. It is high time that major retailers and business interests in this country realize that the public is on to their scare tactics. Instead of peddling fear, they would be well served by partnering with the local community and the State of California and do something positive for the affected communities.
SB 974 has the support of a vast array of environmental justice groups, transportation agencies, health organizations and local community groups.