SACRAMENTO — Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the Republican candidate for vice president, has urged Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to veto a fee on cargo containers going through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, setting off a wave of criticism from California environmentalists.
Palin's letter to Schwarzenegger is dated Aug. 28 -- one day before presidential candidate and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) announced that he had picked her as his running mate. The letter argues that both consumers and the economy in California and Alaska would suffer as a result of the fee.
Though the issue might otherwise be viewed as a relatively parochial port matter, Palin's newfound status as a national political figure has raised the stakes in what state environmentalists consider to be their most important pollution reduction effort this year. They say Palin has no business getting involved in the California issue.
"Why should Gov. Schwarzenegger take into account what out-of-state interests are saying?" said Lisa Warshaw, a spokeswoman for the Coalition for Clean Air. "It's unfortunate that she is using her popularity to push her agenda on this state."
The bill's author, state Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), said Palin appears not to appreciate how important the proposal is for the health of Californians.
"She certainly displays a lack of understanding," Lowenthal said.
Palin's missive attacks Senate Bill 974, which has been approved by the state Legislature but needs Schwarzenegger's signature to become law.
The bill would create a $60 fee for each 40-foot cargo container moving through the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oakland, which together handle more than 40% of the nation's goods.
The fees would raise $400 million annually for such pollution-reduction projects as installing cleaner-burning truck and train engines and building roadways under or over railroad tracks to avoid long lines of idling vehicles.
"Enactment of Senate Bill 974 will have negative impacts on both Alaska and California," Palin wrote. "For Alaskans, a very large percentage of goods [90% or more] shipped to Alaska arrive as marine cargo in a container."
Palin said many Alaskan communities lack road access and depend entirely on goods shipped by container, something that has significantly increased in cost in recent years. Many of those containers pass through the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports before arriving in Alaska, and Palin argues that the fee will add even more to the cost of goods shipped to her state.
"This tax makes the situation worse," Palin wrote. "Similarly, the tax may harm California by driving port business away from its ports."
The letter concludes by requesting that "due consideration be given to our state and that you not sign Senate Bill 974."
Schwarzenegger has not yet responded to Palin's letter, nor has he made a decision about whether to sign or veto the legislation, said spokeswoman Rachel Cameron.
"The governor will take it into consideration," she said of Palin's letter.
But she said Schwarzenegger has warned that he will not sign any bills until the state's overdue budget is approved by the Legislature.
"Right now the governor's top priority is getting a responsible budget approved," Cameron said.
Schwarzenegger has had concerns about the port fee and threatened to veto it last year unless Lowenthal met with retail and shipping representatives to address their complaints that it will harm business.
Lowenthal said he offered to amend the bill this year to address Palin's concerns by cutting the fee in half for containers loaded from one ship to another without leaving California ports by rail or truck.
Schwarzenegger's staff did not agree to the proposed change, the senator said.
On Thursday, with the Palin letter hitting the Internet, Lowenthal invited the Alaskan governor to travel to the Southern California ports to see first-hand why the fee is needed.
"We are losing about 3,400 Californians each year because of pollution," Lowenthal said. "No matter what Gov. Palin would like to see happen, the impact is killing Californians. I don't think Gov. Palin truly understands the impacts going on here."
John Casey, a spokesman for Lowenthal, added: "Maybe Sarah Palin doesn't care about Californians."
Palin's office in Juneau did not return calls late Thursday seeking comment.
Schwarzenegger, a Republican, has endorsed McCain for president, but Lowenthal said he hopes that politics will not play a role in the decision on the legislation.
"I'm hoping the governor sees above it. He says he is an independent. This will be a test," Lowenthal said.
Cameron denied that the governor's support for McCain will play a role.
"The governor is committed to doing what's best for Californians," Cameron said.