Port of LA Approves $10 Million in Settlement Funds to Reduce Port-Related Air Pollution

Earlier today the Port of Los Angeles' Board of Harbor Commissioners voted to approve two agreements that direct $10 million in funds from a 2004 settlement. It is a long story, that all began with a phone call from a concerned resident to an NRDC attorney. Residents living near the Port of Los Angeles were getting increasingly worried about air pollution from the growing ports in LA and Long Beach. They asked if NRDC would get involved, particularly regarding a new proposed terminal project at the Port of LA called China Shipping. Turns out the Port had violated one of California's bedrock environmental laws and was moving forward with building a huge container terminal without disclosing and mitigating for the environmental impacts. One lawsuit (brought by NRDC), a settlement agreement, and an Environmental Impact Report later, and the Port had embarked on what became the beginning of both ports' commitment to "grow green." Fast forward over ten years and there is no doubt that much progress has been made to reduce the harmful air pollution from port operations, and that phone call from a local resident to NRDC started it all.

As part of the settlement agreement in 2004 that resolved the China Shipping lawsuit, the Port agreed to provide $50 million for the mitigation of air quality and aesthetic impacts on the communities surrounding the Port. The agreement also said that if those funds are not spent within five years, the parties to the lawsuit will need to find another way to use the funds to reduce port-related air pollution. Turns out that after the five years, almost $10 million had not been spent.

Negotiations between the original China Shipping litigants and the Port commenced. There were countless meetings where the litigants­­­­--the San Pedro and Peninsula Homeowners' Coalition, San Pedro Homeowners United, Coalition for Clean Air and NRDC--sat around a table with Port staff and hammered out two new agreements to spend the remaining funds.

There is pretty much consensus that we need the advancement and deployment of zero emissions (and near-zero emissions) technology at the Port. Not one more diesel-powered truck or cargo-handling equipment should be authorized to operate at the Port. From trucks to trains to cargo handling equipment, we need emissions reduction technology to protect public health and meet federal air standards. There is also pretty much consensus that the demonstration and implementation of such life-saving technologies is expensive. The China Shipping litigants were committed to use the remaining funds from the 2004 settlement to contribute to this expensive, but critical effort.

I am proud to report that $5.2 million of the funds is going to the Harbor Community Benefit Foundation to issue grants to fund projects that demonstrate or implement zero, or near-zero or other emerging technologies that significantly reduce emissions from port-related operations. And $4 million of the funds is going to the South Coast Air Quality Management District, to help fund the demonstration of a catenary system to power trucks going to and from the ports, extending the range for electric and hybrid trucks.

There is still a lot of work to do to truly clean up port operations and make sure the neighborhoods next to the ports are safe, healthy places to live. And it is not every day that the local community groups, environmental organizations, and the Port of LA can shake hands in agreement. For example, the Port recently admitted to failing to implement key mitigation measures it had committed to in 2008 for the China Shipping terminal. But today is one of the good days, and it is a great step in the right direction.