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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