The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the busiest in the nation, on Wednesday unveiled an aggressive air pollution control plan that officials said would make them the cleanest ports in the world.
Port officials said the $2-billion, five-year plan seeks to reduce sooty diesel pollution from cargo ships, trains and trucks by more than 50%.
One spokesman said the ports were prepared to risk losing some business, if necessary, to reduce health risks to dockworkers and communities around the docks and loading facilities, and along the region's truck-clogged freeways and jammed railroad tracks.
"We may lose some business to Mexico, but we think there's plenty of business out there. If these companies aren't interested in cleaning up their pollution, we're not interested in their business anymore," said Art Wong, spokesman for the Port of Long Beach. "Our bosses have made it clear they're not going to sacrifice people's health for this business."
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday June 30, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 43 words Type of Material: Correction
Ports pollution plan: A story in Thursday's California section about a new air pollution plan at local ports incorrectly stated that Geraldine Knatz formerly headed the Port of Long Beach. She was managing director under Richard Steinke, who was and is executive director.
Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Geraldine Knatz said the two ports can "no longer wait for the rest of the maritime community."
"Hopefully we'll lead the way for the Pacific Rim, and the rest of the world," said Knatz, who headed the Port of Long Beach until January and helped forge the joint plan by the two competing neighbors.
More than 40% of all retail goods imported to the U.S. are shipped through the two fast-growing ports along the San Pedro waterfront, but together they are also the single largest contributor to smog from diesel engines in the Los Angeles Basin, according to regulators.
Studies have shown that diesel exhaust causes cancer and is responsible for 70% of pollution-related health problems and hundreds of deaths annually in the Los Angeles region.
Goods moved through the two ports have more than doubled in recent years. But they have been dogged by legal challenges from environmentalists and air quality regulators as port officials sought to expand or build piers. Officials of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the California Air Resources Board and South Coast Air Quality Management District were involved in the plan's development, and were on hand to express general support Wednesday.
"There is peace in San Pedro Harbor today.... We are no longer a house divided but a house united for green ports under blue skies," said Los Angeles Harbor Commission President David Freeman.
Responding to complaints by environmental groups that previous clean-air plans were never implemented, Freeman said, "The days of yakking are coming to a screeching halt.... This is an action plan, not a study."
Under the plan, which is expected to be approved by both port commissions in September, each port would contribute more than $100 million to replace the fleet of 15,000 aging, short-haul diesel trucks that move goods between freighters and railcars.
The plan requires international cargo ships to run on low-sulfur fuel within 20 nautical miles of the harbor. The ports would also retrofit their docks within 10 years at customer expense, forcing nearly all freighters to use electric power while unloading rather than burning diesel fuel.
"No other port in the world is completely electric," said Wong. "We will be the first anywhere to do this."
John McLaurin, president of Pacific Merchant Shipping Assn., whose members transport 90% of the cargo shipped into West Coast ports, said he hoped that the requirements of the plan would not force them to relocate business to less regulated ports.
"We must all work together to determine the best way to achieve emissions reduction which does not result in significant redirection of cargo to other ports," McLaurin said.
Environmental and port-area community groups offered qualified approval of the plan.
"There are lot of holes that need to be filled," said Adrian Martinez of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "It has the potential to be a groundbreaking plan, or a mediocre one."
Peter Warren, a longtime San Pedro resident and neighborhood activist who sits on the Los Angeles port advisory committee, said it was not clear whether all cruise ships or vessels transporting crude oil would be required to use cleaner fuel.
"The way it's written, it's unclear," said Warren. "I'm concerned. We live in a diesel death zone here."
Port officials are hoping voters will approve a $19.9-billion freeway and port infrastructure state bond measure on the November ballot to help replace the aging diesel trucks, but acknowledged they will be forced to look for other sources of money if it does not pass, or if the state air board does not give them all of the bond money they need.
"We will be looking to the Legislature. We will be looking to the federal and state government," said Freeman, who added that renegotiated leases with shipping companies as well as tariffs will also generate funds.
The ports handle $360 billion in trade annually and support tens of thousands of jobs.
"Make no mistake, these ports are the economy of Southern California," said Long Beach Harbor Commission President James Hankla. But referring to numerous recent studies that show hundreds of deaths annually from disease related to port pollution, he said, "We look at the health reports ... and we shudder, because we're burdened with the responsibility of cleaning it up."