LOS ANGELES (February 6, 2008) – Frustrated with empty promises to clean up port operations while toxic pollution steadily increases and massive expansion projects proceed, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Coalition For A Safe Environment (CFASE) announced plans to file a lawsuit under federal law against the Port of Long Beach. In a letter delivered to the port today, the two environmental groups give port officials 90 days to take enforceable steps to clean up the diesel pollution generated by its operations, or face the lawsuit.
“We are tired of listening to the port authorities saying all the right things, but doing very little,” said David Pettit, a senior attorney with NRDC and director of NRDC’s Southern California Air Program. “It is time for a new approach, so the kids can breathe without inhalers and the elders can live to an old age.”
The facts, and the damage they reveal, are indisputable: the more than 400,000 people who live in the 45 square miles near the ports have a cancer risk of over 200 cases in a million, a risk 200 times higher than the federal government considers acceptable; and official data confirm that goods movement in California is responsible for 2,400 premature deaths every year.
“Port-related diesel emissions cause thousands of preventable hospital visits for asthma, heart attacks, strokes and other ailments every year, including many that prove fatal,” said Jesse Marquez, chair of CFASE. “But because the victims of pollution die quietly, nobody pays attention to them. This has got to stop.”
According to the California Air Resources Board, the current health impact associated with port-related goods movement and other port activities in California is close to $19 billion a year (in 2005 dollars). However, official data also show that each $1 invested in cleaning/preventing pollution returns between $3 and $8 in avoided costs for healthcare, lost workdays.
The lawsuit would be brought under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), a federal law that allows a federal court to order a polluter to stop causing harm to the public and to the environment if an imminent and substantial endangerment can be shown. In September 2007, the Port of Long Beach released its emissions inventory for 2005, which found that its operations emitted over 1,000 tons per year of diesel particulate matter. Most of these emissions were from oceangoing vessels and heavy-duty diesel trucks, which have the port’s permission to come onto port property and pollute.
“The Port of Long Beach has a good written plan to clean up its pollution, but its plan is being ignored by the Long Beach Harbor Commissioners and staff,” said Melissa Lin Perrella, a lawyer with NRDC. “We need a plan with enforceable deadlines. If the port won’t agree to one, we will ask a federal court to order one.”
The federal government, the California state government and the Southern California Air Quality Management District have all determined that diesel particulate matter, created by the combustion of diesel fuel in ships, trucks, trains and other port equipment, contains human carcinogens such as arsenic, mercury and lead.
“RCRA is well-established federal law, and the port’s waste cannot continue to endanger our health and our environment in this way,” said Angela Johnson Meszaros, attorney for CFASE. “Efforts to work with the port have not worked, so the impacted communities are turning to the federal courts for help.”