Port CEO talked green but balked at changes in law to reduce truck pollution

Breathing Uneasy: The port's Tay Yoshitani came here promising to make Seattle the green leader. But he helped lead other ports in opposing federal reforms that would have helped.

Trucks operate at a Port of Seattle facility. Residents would like more steps to ensure diesel-engine pollution is minimized.

Trucks operate at a Port of Seattle facility. Residents would like more steps to ensure diesel-engine pollution is minimized. KCTS

Tay Yoshitani
(Port of Seattle)

Tay Yoshitani (Port of Seattle) None

When Port of Seattle Chief Executive Officer Tay Yoshitani took over the nation’s sixth busiest cargo port, he vowed to vault it ahead of competing ports in its environmental record.

"The cleanest, greenest, most energy-efficient port in the U.S.,” is what Yoshitani promised not long after taking over in 2007.

Yet under Yoshitani’s leadership:

  • The port has run advertisements in shipping-industry trade journals boasting about its lack of “clean-truck fees” like those charged at competing West coast ports with stricter controls on air pollution emitted by privately operated trucks that move cargo. “Fee free. NOW. No clean truck fees … and collaborating with our customers to keep it that way,” the ads said.

  • The American Association of Port Authorities North Pacific caucus, which he chairs, opposed changes in federal legislation that would give port directors like Yoshitani power to curb pollution from the trucks.

  • While the port said it was remaining officially neutral on efforts in Congress to regulate truck pollution, Yoshitani made his personal opposition clear before a shipping-industry audience in Seattle, calling the idea “a disservice to commerce.”

David Pettit is the Natural Resources Defense Council lawyer who sued the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports to force cleanup of the trucks there. He said the Port of Seattle’s ads present the unusual situation of Seattle — which LA residents look up to as “an environmental nirvana” — being outpaced by LA at going green.

"You should be ashamed of those ads,” Pettit said. “What those ads do is mock Los Angeles for our environmental program. They say, bring your (dirty trucks) to Seattle.”

In fact, some drivers working at the Port of Seattle today are driving trucks they bought in California, where the trucks are too old and dirty to haul Port of Los Angeles cargo, said Paul Marvy, an attorney and activist with Change To Win, a non-profit group working on the trucks issue.

The trucks that service the Port of Seattle regularly traverse roads in and around the neighborhoods of south Seattle, where two recent studies documented high levels of toxic air pollutants, and where the rate of children hospitalized for asthma is the worst in King County.

Much of the air pollution comes from diesel engines like those in the port trucks, according to government environmental regulators. Environmental activists are pressuring the port to clean up the trucks, as the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports are doing.

Port officials scheduled an interview with Yoshitani for this story, but canceled it after being notified he would be asked about the “fee free NOW” ad.

Port spokeswoman Charla Skaggs defended Yoshitani’s record, saying his opposition to a truck reform law was not on behalf of the Port of Seattle, and that the ad was part of a larger campaign that also emphasized the port’s commitment to operating in an environmentally sensitive way.

We’re working to clean up the air while we’re working with the industry to keep the jobs here,” Skaggs said. “We have never said that we’ve arrived and there’s not more work to do.”

Yoshitani has launched some environmental initiatives. On the air pollution front, the port has sought to reduce diesel emissions by providing financial assistance to ships at berth so they can burn clean fuels. To keep docked cruise ships from belching the toxic, sooty diesel discharge, the port now provides shore-side electric power to some cruise ships. And efforts have been undertaken to reduce emissions from cargo-handling equipment.

That’s not enough, critics say. Yoshitani, a West Point grad who earned his MBA from the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration, was formerly director of the port in Oakland, Calif. That port has since moved more quickly than the Seattle port to require cleaner trucks. The same is true of the other two major west coast U.S. ports that bring ashore lots of cargo, Long Beach and Los Angeles, Calif. Those ports reported major reductions in air pollution after regulations on cargo-hauling trucks went into effect.


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Jun 14, 8:31 a.m. Inappropriate

Great journalism by McClure. Great to see him back on the scene. One question goes unasked...

Where was the elected Port Commission, especially Commission President Bill Bryant, for all of this? As a self-identified conservationist, shouldn't Bryant have been watch-dogging Yoshitani and telling him to back off? Could McClure ask the Port Commission President for comments?

OnaLark

Posted Tue, Jun 14, 8:44 a.m. Inappropriate

I work for the Port of Seattle and would like to highlight some information that is not included in this piece. Under our commission and Mr. Yoshitani's leadership, the port adopted the Northwest Ports Clean Air Strategy, a comprehensive emissions reduction program in partnership with the ports of Tacoma and Port Metro Vancouver. The program addresses reductions in all areas of maritime-related emissions, including ships, trucks, and cargo-handling equipment. In our harbor, the greatest source of maritime-related emissions is ships; that's why the port has invested significant resources in the At-Berth Clean Fuels program, which offers incentives to shippers to use cleaner, low-sulfur fuel while they are at berth in our harbor.

And we have also implemented a robust clean truck program. As of January 1, all trucks calling at Port of Seattle terminals must be registered and have documented that their truck engine is model year 1994 or newer. The average age of the drayage truck calling at our terminals is now model year 2002 - a significant improvement in just three years.

The port also partnered with the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency and Cascade Sierra Solutions on an innovative truck scrapping program, offering truck owners $5000 or Blue Book value, whichever was greater, to scrap their older truck and invest in a newer, cleaner model. 276 trucks were scrapped through the program.

Nearly 22,000 family-wage jobs are directly created by seaport activities, and these are jobs we need to keep here in our region. If cargo goes away, so do jobs - so we are working to improve the environment while also protecting the industrial jobs that have been a part of Seattle's port for 100 years. For more information about these programs, please visit http://www.portseattle.org/community/.

Charla Skaggs, Port of Seattle

cskaggs

Posted Tue, Jun 14, 10:38 a.m. Inappropriate

I would like the Port of Seattle to work towards ZERO environmental impacts by the year 2020.

BlueLight

Posted Tue, Jun 14, 11:59 a.m. Inappropriate

We received the following note this morning, and the writer has given permission to post it:

Dear Editor:

I'm not going to take the time to refute the points made by authors in the above reference article on Port of Seattle environmental policy although each and every point is refutable on substantive grounds. If the ideological basis and political agenda of this article are not already apparent to you, Crosscut editors ought to be made aware of the ideological nature of the perspective and source material incorporated into this report.

Currently there is a battle at our nation's ports between independent trucking, which at our port in Oakland is responsible for over 90% of cargo movements, and the faltering Teamsters union which is funding community front organizations in an effort to wrap policies supportive of their own self-interest in false and inflammatory rhetoric that evokes high-minded environmental goals. I'm afraid your paper has been made the victim of this public relations efforts. Don't be duped.

Ronald Light
Executive Director
--
West State Alliance
"The voice of the Port of Oakland trucker"
Oakland, CA 94623

Posted Tue, Jun 14, 2:36 p.m. Inappropriate

On behalf of the 50,000 (and growing) Teamster families here in Washington State, here is a response to Mr. Light's comment:

1. The Washington Teamsters never contacted or corresponded with the authors of this article, although we were pleasantly surprised to see it this morning.

2. The Teamsters have worked for years with NRDC, Sierra Club and environmental justice groups to clean up dangerous diesel pollution in low income communities. The Teamsters want clean air for everyone, but don't believe the costs should be put on the backs of the often immigrant, disenfranchised workers moving Walmart and Costco's containers. The solution? Make the trucking companies and their corporate clients, not the indigent workers, pay for and maintain the technology. It's a simple sidestep around the jobs v. environment narrative of the 1990s.

3. Mr. Light misses the point of this article: What was the Port of Seattle Director's role in blocking the Clean Ports Act -- a bill that would give his own staff the legal ability to clean up pollution threatening the health of Seattle residents, workers, and taxpayers. Why would someone who says he's "green" do that? And why would we let him get away with it?

Heather Weiner
Political Action Director
Teamsters Joint Council No. 28
www.jc28.org

Posted Tue, Jun 14, 3:02 p.m. Inappropriate

Bryant, Tarleton and the rest of the Port Commission continue to reward Yoshitani in spite of this blatant greenwashing (or because of it?). They gave him a 9% raise this year, higher than is even allowed for other Port employees (http://crosscut.com/blog/crosscut/20144/An-unwise-raise-for-the-Port-chief/). Yoshitani acts like he's accountable to no one. If the Commissioners won't do anything about, we should get new ones who will.

EchoHill

Posted Tue, Jun 14, 6:32 p.m. Inappropriate

It is just plain sad and disturbing that our Port attracts business by running ads pointing out the costs to shippers of LA's efforts to improve air quality

If the cargo business is so price- sensitive, it also makes me wonder where the Port of Seattle is going to come up with $300 million for the viaduct project. It evidently won't be the shipping companies. So, who will it be? I look forward to an answer to this and also to the questions Heather Weiner raises, and to the many questions raised by the story itself.

sjenner

Posted Thu, Jun 16, 6:59 p.m. Inappropriate

Wow! Talk about journalism with an agenda. What the report failed to mention was that the legislation in question had almost nothing to do with the environment and everything to do with opening up the port trucking industry to organization by the Teamsters and running independent owner/operators out of business. Oops, I guess they forgot to mention that part of it. Everybody wants clean air, but there are better ways to do it than to get diverted into a labor dispute that pretends to be about the environment. It takes more than just talking to both sides to make a legitimate story. You need to put in all the facts.

cunham

Posted Fri, Jun 17, 11:17 a.m. Inappropriate

Heather Weiner
Political Action Director
Teamsters Joint Council No. 28
www.jc28.org

"On behalf of the 50,000 (and growing) Teamster families here in Washington State"
__________________________________________________________________________

The question to clarify is how many PORT DRAYAGE Members?

Here in Oakland we have 5,400 drayage drivers with less than 3% teamsters.

Teamsters organizers have lost all respect with Oakland Truckers trying to do a bait and switch sales job on the drivers. Oh by the way if you don't agree with the teamsters or tell the truth you are labeled as anti union and could get lawsuits tossed at you. I know because I have being sued by the teamsters.

When a union that should be representing the best intrest of working people in the trucking stoops so low to represent marijuana growers! Marijuana has nothing to do with trucking. What does that tell you?? Teamsters are no more than the like of bad corporations.

I hope the Seattle Teamsters are getting the services for the membership dues they pay, local 70 is spending the dues attacking small business.

I support equality for all workers (union and Non-Union).

Posted Sat, Jun 18, 10:33 a.m. Inappropriate

No mention of the Port's new-engine requirement? No mention of their old-truck scrapping program? Talk about an egregiously unbalanced article.

The stench of the Teamsters is all over these front groups. Just like the anti-WalMart groups trying to convince you it's a horrible company that abuses its employees - EVERY ONE of those groups are union-backed.

Don't be fooled.

MagBill

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