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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Clean Port Partnership

Air Date: Week of

Port of Los Angeles (Photo courtesy of: US Department of Transportation)

Living on Earth’s Western Bureau Chief Ingrid Lobet fills host Steve Curwood in on new developments in reductions in air pollution in the ports of L.A. and Long Beach.


CURWOOD: It may seem like an uphill battle for communities that border the nations ever-expanding trade and transport hubs, but in Los Angeles, where fully 40 percent of the nation’s shipping containers enter the country, and where the cry over diesel exhaust has been the loudest, there’s now significant change. With me to talk about what some consider a key environmental justice issue is Living On Earth’s Western bureau chief, Ingrid Lobet. Ingrid, what are the new developments in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach?

LOBET: Well, it’s a pretty big deal. These two ports with their trains and ships and trucks emit more pollution that LA’s 6 million cars. And they’ve always been in competition with each other, but now they are cooperating. And they’ve jointly announced what they’re calling the most aggressive plan to reduce health risk and air pollution in America’s seaport history. It’s a 50 percent reduction in diesel particles in 5 years.

CURWOOD: Wow, that’s significant. But haven’t the ports always argued that they’re just the landlords to these cargo ships and semi trailers, that they couldn’t make them do anything.

Port of Los Angeles (Photo courtesy of: US Department of Transportation)

LOBET: That’s right, and that’s what’s so different. Now all of a sudden they are promising to exact commitments when the shippers’ leases come up for renewal. And they’re also requiring that right away, ships begin switching their main engines to ultra low sulfur diesel, beginning 20 miles off shore. And they’ll also have to shut off their engines when they dock, and they’ll have to plug in to shore power.

CURWOOD: But now isn’t it really the trucks that receive the shipping containers on the docks that are one of the biggest problems, not just the ships.

LOBET: Yeah, I think they are the biggest problem and here there are going to have to be buy-outs and incentives for truckers to upgrade, because these short distance truck drivers, many of them own their own rigs and they’re operating on really thin margins. They just can’t afford to buy shinny new tractor-trailers with new engines, even if they want to.

CURWOOD: There must be thousands of these trucks. I think it must cost a fortune to replace them before their time.

LOBET: Yeah, it looks like it might cost about 1.7 billion dollars. And the ports haven’t said where that money will come from. They’ve pledged some of it, but they’re also going to be asking taxpayers to bear this burden with a bond measure on November’s ballot.

CURWOOD: What if that bond issue doesn’t pass?

LOBET: If it doesn’t pass, these ports and the local and state air authorities and the EPA and the shippers, they’re all going to have to come up with some other source of funding. But I wouldn’t say the plan is dead, Steve. And that’s because the talk you’re hearing now has really changed. We seem to have turned a corner.

There was a lawsuit over health and environmental concerns that actually shut down construction briefly. That combined with that you have more environmentally friendly leadership at the ports and these health studies that keep piling up for this community that’s already disproportionately affected by refineries and freeways. I think the port leadership realizes it’s not going to be able to continue to expand its operations here unless it radically cleans up these big engines. Times are changing.

CURWOOD: Thanks, Ingrid.

LOBET: Thanks, Steve.

CURWOOD: Ingrid Lobet heads our Western bureau in Los Angeles.



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