The Port of Seattle just got a good look at who really likes the agency’s multi-faceted plans to reduce port-related air pollution: Trucking companies, shipping companies, the national ports lobby, the longshoremen’s union, and a regional planning agency.
And the port’s elected governing commission also heard who thinks the port is unforgivably laggardly in reducing pollution, especially from diesel-burning trucks that haul cargo out of the port into neighborhoods that register the highest rate of childhood hospitalizations for asthma in King County. Those critics include environmentalists, social justice activists, the Church Council of Greater Seattle, the Teamsters, and three other unions.
“The Port of Seattle has taken timid first steps,” Bang Nguyen of the Community Coalition for Environmental Justice told the Port Commission on Tuesday (July 12). “Act now to protect children.”
But the port commissioners did not act. Nguyen and other activists urged the commission to accelerate plans to require that trucks picking up cargo meet the latest federal air-pollution regulations for diesel-fired vehicles. Instead, the commission will wait a year for recommendations from its staff.
Jim Tutton, vice president of the Washington Trucking Association, said the port’s current plan to require 80 percent of the trucks to have the latest pollution-control systems by Dec. 31, 2015, is good enough. All the trucks must be compliant by Dec. 31, 2017.
“We greatly appreciate the way the Port of Seattle’s clean truck program has been instituted,” Tutton said. “The industry has been able to adopt the new requirements in a reasonable manner, allowing companies (and) their drivers to continue serving their customers without a disruption. … Our compliments to the port.”
The port is three and a half years into a 10-year plan to reduce air pollution from trucks, ships that bring cargo and cruise passengers to docks around Elliott Bay, equipment used to unload the ships, and other port-related sources of air pollution.
But after the Port Commission adopted that plan in January 2008, studies by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency and the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry showed large air-pollution impacts in South Park and Georgetown. Those are the residential neighborhoods tucked cheek-by-jowl with the port and the spiderweb of highways that spans the neighborhoods south of Elliott Bay.
Activists say the current schedule to clean up the trucks is just too lax. But they lost in a 3-2 Port Commission vote last December, with Commissioners Rob Holland and John Creighton voting to clean up the trucks by 2013. Commissioners Bill Bryant, Tom Albro, and Gael Tarleton voted no.
However, in January, commissioners on a 5-0 vote instructed port staffers to look into what might be done to clean up port-related air pollution sooner than currently planned, citing "an urgent need to address the public health risks of poor air quality caused by expanding container (ship) traffic, the continued strength of cruise ship visits, and the associated growth in port trucking..."
This week’s meeting was to check on progress on that effort. Activists expressed serious disappointment with the result.
“There’s absolutely no plan to bring the truck fleet up to … compliance,” said Paul Marvy, an activist with the Change To Win labor federation. “Hoping for government dollars for grants is not a solution.”
Several activists including Nguyen brought up a recent collaborative reporting project by InvestigateWest and KCTS9 examining the air pollution problem in south Seattle, which Marvy said generated more than 300 e-mails to port officials by supporters. The stories, which ran on Crosscut.com and KCTSConnects, featured a 5-year-old asthmatic girl who lives in Georgetown, Lettie Vela.
“The consequence of postponing action . . . will be more children like Lettie developing asthma,” Nguyen told the Port Commission.
Nguyen referred to an informal survey done by his group, the Community Coalition for Environmental Justice, and Puget Sound Sage, an alliance of community, labor, and religious organizations working on social justice issues. The groups surveyed 230 residents of South Park and Georgetown in 2009, mostly by knocking on residents’ doors. Although the results are anecdotal because the survey wasn’t set up to glean perfectly representative or statistically significant figures, majorities of respondents:
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