Port of Stockton Sued Over Massive Expansion Project

Skyrocketing Diesel Emissions Would Threaten Public Health, Suit Alleges

LOS ANGELES (July 27, 2004) - Conservation and homeowner groups today are serving the Port of Stockton with a lawsuit over a massive port expansion project that fails to mitigate significant increases in air, water and noise pollution. The project, which includes marine terminal, commercial and industrial development on over 1400 acres, would triple the size of the port and result in more than 13 million additional vehicle trips annually. Ultimately, the plan could generate industrial activity nearly around-the-clock within 400 feet of residences, on a site that has not been used for shipping in decades.

In violation of California environmental law, the Port of Stockton and its commissioners approved the expansion project without meaningful pollution mitigation measures, despite skyrocketing toxic diesel exhaust, smog-forming chemicals and other contaminants that would be emitted by additional ships, trucks, locomotives, and cargo handling equipment, according to the petitioners. The Port also failed accurately to assess the environmental impacts of the project or to consider less polluting alternatives, as required by the California Environmental Quality Act.

"This is a reckless expansion plan that will damage public health, disrupt local communities and harm marine habitats," said DeltaKeeper Bill Jennings, one of the petitioners. "We don't want pollution-based prosperity. We need economic growth that's environmentally sustainable."

The lawsuit seeks to stop the port expansion project until it fully complies with California environmental laws. It was filed Friday in San Joaquin County Superior Court by DeltaKeeper (a project of WaterKeepers Northern California), NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), Friends of Riviera Cliffs, Brookside Concerned Citizens Group and Friends of Atherton Cove. The groups are represented by the San Francisco law firm Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger LLP, and by NRDC.

"The Port's expansion on Rough and Ready Island will create serious health and safety risks for all Stockton-area residents," said Ann Chargin, a member of Friends of Riviera Cliffs. "The Port's promises about the family-wage local jobs that this project will allegedly bring are just empty promises. In truth, it is a bad deal for all Stockton residents, not just for a few people across the water."

The San Joaquin Valley Air Basin, which includes the Port, already violates federal and state air quality standards for smog and particulate matter and has some of the worst air quality in the country, according to the lawsuit.

"The Port expansion plan will make a bad situation a whole lot worse," said NRDC senior project attorney Julie Masters. "Smog and diesel particulate matter cause respiratory disease and cancer. The Port's approval of this project without measures to offset pollution will create more smog and soot throughout the San Joaquin Valley and damage the health of residents. There are simple, cost-effective ways to clean the air, and the Port should implement them."

The Port of Stockton expansion project includes upgrading seven wharves; constructing and operating a 105-acre container terminal and a 300-acre auto processing facility; developing an intermodal rail yard; dredging to provide access to 75 percent of the world's large ocean-going vessels; and bridge and road improvements to accommodate increased port operations.

The project would result in an additional 130 vessel calls to the Port each year, likely more than 8,500 diesel truck trips and 42,000 other vehicle trips each day, and the significant use of heavy-duty diesel equipment, such as yard tractors and tugboats, causing extremely noisy, highly polluting shipping activities nearly around-the-clock, and only 400 feet from the closest residences.

The Delta already is a fragile ecosystem and the Deep-Water Ship Channel is its most polluted area. The proposed Port expansion will degrade them further with industrial pollution and ballast water discharges of non-indigenous species and pathogens from around the world.

Despite acknowledging significant environmental and public health impacts, the Port failed to adopt any genuine mitigation measures.

NRDC recently won a $60-million consent judgment against an expansion project at the Port of Los Angeles, which required the Port to construct the world's first electrified container terminal where ships can plug into dockside power while at berth -- a practice called "cold ironing" -- instead of continuously running their dirty diesel engines to generate electricity. It also requires the Port to use dock tractors that run on cleaner, alternative fuels instead of diesel; to evaluate cleaner marine fuels; and to spend $10 million to replace old, dirty diesel trucks with newer, cleaner trucks, and $20 million for additional air quality mitigation measures.

While these "green" measures were implemented this year at the China Shipping Terminal in Los Angeles, no similar measures are included in the Port of Stockton project. These and many other methods to reduce port pollution are detailed in a recent report by NRDC and the Coalition for Clean Air called "Harboring Pollution: The Dirty Truth about U.S. Ports".