Judge Sides with Long Beach Residents in Clean Air Suit

Ruling Finds Harbor Violated CA Environmental Law in Making Backdoor Industry Deal

LOS ANGELES (July 18, 2011) – The Long Beach Harbor Commission illegally violated state environmental law when it weakened its truck clean-up program without first performing the required environmental review, according to Federal District Court Judge Christina A. Snyder. Last Friday, the court ruled in favor of a lawsuit brought by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club, which claimed the Commission’s action violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

“Nothing about the port’s agreement with the American Trucking Associations was made with the public’s health in mind,” said David Pettit, director of NRDC’s Southern California Clean Air Program. “The agreement was a big giveaway to industry in hopes that ATA would drop their litigation against the port, and when they did, so did the port’s commitment to a sustainable clean truck program and cleaner air for port residents.”

NRDC argued that a deal the Harbor Commission entered into with the American Trucking Associations (ATA) would make air quality worse in communities surrounding the Port of Long Beach. In October 2009, the Port agreed to hand over authority to the ATA to oversee future updates to the clean trucks program at the Port of Long Beach, in an agreement that required the Port to receive ATA’s approval before making changes to the program or risk the ATA filing a lawsuit.

Judge Snyder ruled that this private agreement, entered into on October 19, 2009, violates CEQA because Long Beach did not analyze how the agreement would impact the environment. The federal court ordered the Port to conduct an “initial study” under CEQA to evaluate whether more environmental analysis is necessary to understand the effects of the Harbor Commission’s deal with the trucking industry. The CEQA process will also provide opportunities for the public to give input, including on the issue of whether the port needs to conduct a more thorough environmental review. 

The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are serviced by thousands of trucks, which are responsible for tons of diesel pollution in the Los Angeles region, contributing to hundreds of premature deaths and chronic heart and lung diseases. Making sure that these trucks are clean and well-maintained is a priority for NRDC and the Sierra Club.

Read David Pettit’s and Melissa Lin Perrella’s blogs on port air pollution at: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/