Senate Bill 974 and The Art of the Possible

Recently, we posted a piece by Senator Alan Lowenthal, calling for passage of his container-fee measure, SB 974. This common-sense measure would have required a minimal fee on each container coming off the ships at the Ports of Long Beach, L.A. and Oakland where the air quality is so badly impacted by the vehicles transporting this important commerce. The fee generated would go to mitigate the filthy and unhealthy air quality. It would also be used to repair the infra-structure upon which the trucks and vehicles transporting these goods move.
Unfortunately, those who benefit from the commercial (read profit) aspects of this—the Wal-Marts and other big corporations, have been fighting tooth-and-nail to kill this bill. While Senator Lowenthal remains committed to its passage, the dark under-belly of politics has pushed back ferociously. Although they’ve been able to delay the measure, the pressure being put on the Governor and other legislators has increased because of the public concern and outcry that has moved this bill far beyond what the big moneyed lobbyists ever expected.
Although Senator Lowenthal has announced he will not move the bill this year, progress is clearly being made. The fact that he was able to sit face-to-face with the Governor means a great deal in terms of the importance this measure carries. Usually, meetings on bills occur with the Governor’s underlings. In this case, the Governor has personally committed to some kind of fee to off-set the filth and dangerous conditions that surround the ports of our state.
But since this is politics, the fact is that the Gov. doesn’t want to further alienate Big Business while he tries to shove some kind of healthcare “reform” down their throats. We don’t think his idea of reform is much of anything, so long as the health insurance industry is still in the game and calling the shots. But Schwarzenegger is committed to putting something out there to placate the public demand for a fix of this completely broken system. Thus the delay on cleaning up the air. But this is politics–the art of the possible. So Senator Lowenthal will wait until January to rev up this important bill.
For many of us, this is just more frustration at the delay, while the health and lives of many continue to be sacrificed at the altar of greed and profit. But this is also a political world we live in. Sometimes the right thing takes a while to happen. In the case of SB 974 we’ll expect to see that happen in the coming legislative year.
Here are Senator Lowenthal’s thoughts on the situation:

No one ever said it would be easy, and we all know it isn’t pretty!
When I was first elected to the state Assembly almost 9 years ago, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach were considered untouchable. The jobs they helped create and the fortunes they helped generate were truly awe inspiring. However lurking underneath all of those containers filled with stocking stuffers and ipods was a dirty secret. The massive explosion of trade with our far east trading partners has come with a heavy price to our quality of life. The air pollution associated with this trade leads to an estimated 2400 premature deaths a year and will cost California over $200 BILLION in pollution related health care costs over the next 20 years.
My legislation, SB 974 would add a modest fee to each container entering and exiting the ports of Long Beach, Los Angeles and Oakland to help pay to clean-up our state’s terrible air quality. As you may imagine any bill that adds cost to a product will have massive opposition up here in Sacramento. SB 974 was deemed a “job killer” by the California Chamber of Commerce, a distinction that almost guarantees an uphill fight.
I have been working on this a version of this bill for the past three years. The first year I introduced the bill I was laughed at. The retail industry stopped laughing last year when the bill made it to the Governor’s desk. Unfortunately, the Governor vetoed the bill after heavy lobbying from Wal-Mart and the National Retailers Federation. Undeterred, I re-introduced the bill this year with the hopes of finally getting the Governor engaged on the issue.
On Tuesday, I met personally with Governor Schwarzenegger and was encouraged by our conversation. Basically, the Governor understands the air pollution issues that surround the goods-movement industry and is willing to consider a container fee such as that included in SB 974. He asked me to hold the bill and work with him over the fall recess to reach an agreement on a container fee. I have agreed to do so and look forward to working with the administration on this bill.
The bottom line is this. I am extremely confident that we will soon have a container fee that begins to clean up our filthy air. I will not settle for anything less.
Senator Lowenthal represents the 27th Senate district that comprises both the Ports of LA and Long Beach. He has been working on a measure to deal with this situation since entering the Assembly in 1998. As one of the most environmentally and progressively committed legislators, he has the respect of both sides of the aisle in his pursuit of cleaning up the air and waters of our state.