NRDC issues pollution ultimatum to Long Beach port
The National Resource Defense Council issued an ultimatum to Long Beach port and city officials Wednesday, saying the port has 90 days to take immediate action to reduce port pollution or face a federal lawsuit calling for federal oversight of port pollution programs.
The 13-page letter, addressed to Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster, Long Beach Harbor Commission President Mario Cordero, and Port of Long Beach Executive Director Richard Steinke, charges the port is violating federal law by disposing of toxic waste in the form of diesel truck exhaust. Calling the port an 'imminent and substantial endangerment to public health,' the group is also charging the port with an ongoing failure to remedy the emissions.
The NRDC letter, co-signed by Southern California environmental group The Coalition for a Safe Environment, calls for Long Beach officials to immediately implement programs to cut diesel exhaust emitted by ships, trucks and trains used in port operations.
If the port fails to act within the 90-day timeframe, the NRDC plans to ask a federal court to appoint a 'port czar' that would force the port to address the diesel pollution immediately. If the suit is filed and pending a trial, the NRDC will also seek an injunction halting all port development, capping port throughput to existing levels, and ordering the port to cap emissions to current levels.
Despite the fact that the neighboring ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles are universally considered one port by labor and industry, and that diesel emissions from one port are indistinguishable from those generated within the other, the NRDC letter was only sent to Long Beach port and city officials. Copies of the letters were forwarded by the NRDC, but not addressed directly, to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the California Department of Toxic Substances Control.
The NRDC claims it is only targeting Long Beach because the environmental group is in negotiation with Los Angeles officials over environmental impacts regarding a proposed port of Los Angeles container terminal expansion project.
“I think they’re a little premature in their action because we are and have been working to address these issues,” Cordero told the Long Beach Press-Telegram. “You can’t accomplish a plan like this in a year’s period,” he said.
In November 2006, the adjacent ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles adopted an omnibus package of environmental mitigation programs called the Clean Air Action Plan. Developed and adopted jointly by the two ports, the major component of the CAAP is a program to reduce emissions from the nearly 17,000 independently owned diesel trucks that transport containers to and from the port on a frequent or semi-frequent basis.
Announced last March, the truck plan seeks to replace the ports' drayage fleet with 2007 or newer model year trucks by 2012. The plan also seeks to re-regulate the local drayage industry by setting up a licensing plan allowing the ports to determine which truck firms can do business with the ports and a labor component that mandates that trucking firms only hire per-hour employee drivers instead of independent owner-operators.
The ports have to date approved two initial portions of the truck plan. The first, a progressive multi-year ban on pre-2007 model year trucks that was approved by the ports in December and a $35 per TEU container tax that will pay for the replacement trucks, which was passed last month. The two ports have yet to vote on the licensing or labor portions of the plan, both of which could trigger litigation from groups within the transportation and retail industry.
The truck plan, especially the labor component, has garnered heavy support from Los Angeles City Hall, labor groups such as the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and environmental groups including the NRDC.
Some members of the transportation industry are relating the timing and target of the NRDC letter to the upcoming votes on the truck plan.
The NRDC is specifically threatening to sue the city and port of Long Beach over the toxic chemicals contained in diesel truck exhaust under the auspices of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. In the letter, the environmental group claims the port is 'disposing' of this material because the diesel exhaust eventually settles onto the ground and water. This diesel particulate matter, commonly seen as soot from truck smokestacks, is in reality fine particles of carbon created in the combustion process within the truck engines. While these particles, some 10 times smaller in diameter than a human hair, are mostly inert carbon, they also contain minute traces of numerous other chemicals and heavy metals that bind to the carbon particles.
The group's letter cites a U.S. code Title 42 statute that allows citizens to sue a government agency that generates, transports, or owns a facility that stores solid or hazardous waste. The letter identifies the trace chemicals and metals in the diesel particulates as the 'solid waste' being disposed of by the port.
The statue sets forth that the potential litigant must notify the administrator of the government agency at least 90 days before a suit can be brought.
However, the statue also states that the NRDC must inform 'any person alleged to have contributed or to be contributing to the past or present handling, storage, treatment, transportation, or disposal of any solid or hazardous waste.' In the case of diesel exhaust, this would include the owners of all the trucks, ships, and locomotives operating within the ports. The NRDC letter does not indicate that these individuals were or will be notified. ' Keith Higginbotham