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Governor Vetoes Port Smog Curbs

Environmentalists say big business wins out over clean air. Also killed are bills to curb outsourcing and allow importation of drugs.

September 30, 2004|Deborah Schoch and Nancy Vogel | Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Wednesday vetoed a bill to force the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to limit air pollution, angering environmentalists who said the health of surrounding residents was being threatened by dirty air from ships, trucks, trains and wharf equipment.

One of the most closely watched environmental bills of the session, the legislation would have required the ports to keep air pollution at or below 2004 levels. The fast-growing Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex is the largest air polluter in Southern California.

John McLaurin, president of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Assn., welcomed the veto, calling the bill "clearly well-intended" but "vague in how it was to be implemented and flawed in its construction."

He vowed that the shipping lines and terminal operators his group represents would continue to make changes to improve air quality in Long Beach and Los Angeles.

Environmentalists, however, accused the governor of turning his back on the cause of clean air.

"I think he had a choice between clean air and big business," said Bill Magavern, a senior lobbyist for the Sierra Club. "And he chose big business. The air in the L.A. and Long Beach regions is never going to be clean unless we get a handle on port emissions."

With just one day remaining for the governor to veto bills or see them automatically become law, Schwarzenegger took action on parts of two packages of legislation that have rallied consumer and labor groups:

* He vetoed three of five bills aimed at curbing and tracking the outsourcing of California jobs to foreign countries -- a cost-saving practice some companies have turned to.

* He vetoed one of nine bills aimed at cutting prescription drug costs, some by easing access to cheaper Canadian prescription drugs.

Advocates for the disabled, elderly and consumers expect vetoes today on the remaining prescription drug bills, including one that would require the state to establish a website linking consumers to Canadian pharmacies. Drugs can be purchased there up to 40% cheaper than in the U.S.

Federal law bans the importation of prescription drugs from outside the U.S., but an estimated 1 million Americans have bought such drugs either in person or through the mail from Canada to avoid spiraling prices at home.

The governor "has consistently said that he will not sign legislation that is a violation of federal law," Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Ashley Snee said. She noted that the administration had warned authors of the prescription drug bills -- all Democrats -- that it would oppose the measures unless they were amended.

Snee refused to speculate on the fate of the two remaining outsourcing bills, including one to require large California companies to tell the state each year how many people they employ abroad.

The outsourcing bills killed by the governor included SB 888 by Sen. Joe Dunn (D-Santa Ana) and AB 1829 by Assemblywoman Carol Liu (D-La Canada Flintridge), which together would have banned state agencies from contracting for work done by foreign employees.

Schwarzenegger also vetoed SB 1492 by Dunn, which would have required that healthcare providers get permission from patients before sending medical information overseas.

Democratic lawmakers and labor unions had lobbied hard for the bills, saying Schwarzenegger had accepted at least $3.7 million in campaign contributions from firms that shipped jobs overseas to cut costs.

In a veto message on the port air-pollution measure, Schwarzenegger wrote that the bill, AB 2042 by Assemblyman Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), "will not reduce pollution in any way."

"We need to focus our scarce resources on substantive, prompt action that will make real progress toward our shared air quality goals," wrote the governor, who campaigned on a promise to cut California's air pollution in half by 2010.

Lowenthal said he was disappointed but would persist.

"More people are going to die," he said. "More kids are going to develop diminished lung capacity. More kids are going to get asthma, and all we're going to do is talk."

Lowenthal called his bill a response to increasing public concerns about port pollution, particularly diesel fumes, a probable carcinogen.

The Los Angeles-Long Beach ports account for 24% of diesel emissions in the region. Cargo moving through the facilities is expected to quadruple by 2025.

Complaints from residents prompted Long Beach port commissioners Wednesday to rethink plans for expanding Pier J, citing health concerns.

More public outcry is expected today as officials resume talks on how to expand the Long Beach Freeway, the main truck conduit between the ports and inland areas.

The Lowenthal bill would have required the ports to work with local and state air regulators to stabilize pollution at 2004 levels or below. If they could not reach agreement, the ports would have been allowed to develop emission baselines, to be approved by local regulators.

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