Something stinks in Long Beach … (A reprint of Vol. VIII, Art. 22)

The “CONTRA COSTA TIMES” carried an article by John Pomfret earlier this month, and its content should have promoted an uprising among Southern California citizenry. It didn’t. Those folks out there have been called ‘laid back’ and ‘fat, dumb, and happy’. Read John’s observations and decide which of these descriptions is more fitting. Here’s some of what John wrote.

“LONG BEACH – In the first effort of its kind in the nation, the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles are about to launch a $ 2 billion campaign to clean up the ships, trucks, cranes and locomotives that ply and pollute the waterfronts in the country’s busiest ports …”

[$ 2 billion. That’s a nice round number. But what is it buying? It’s buying what it’s supposed to buy. It’s buying time. It’s buying appeasement. There are no solutions in the minds of the California authorities, so they’re just introducing another kind of pollution. A smoke screen.]

“The two ports are among the biggest polluters in a region known for some of the nation’s dirtiest air. Federal officials say that unless something is done, the pollution at those ports and many others across the nation will drastically worsen …”

[A number of highly respected maritime authorities have insisted repeatedly that other West Coast ports should be set up to handle the steadily increasing numbers of incoming containers. Zhang Bing, Jerry Bridges, Russ Bruner, Alan Clifford, Neil Davidson, Nolan Gimpel, Jean Godwin, Doug Tilden, John Vickerman, and many, many others have spoken out against the concentration of so much volume in Southern California. In talk after talk, former DOT Secretary Mineta reminded officials of the need to introduce change into port operations, even predicting that at least 200 more of the nation’s 361 ports would be required to accommodate the expected volume increases. It’s obvious that the prevailing philosophy is to cross that bridge when they come to it.]

“The Environmental Protection Agency is predicting that by 2030, smog-causing nitrogen oxide emissions and particulate matter from ships and other commercial vessels will have doubled their current levels.

“The California proposal, expected to be formally adopted next month, aims to reduce particulate matter by 81 percent and nitrogen oxides by 62 percent in five years…”

[Like the $ 2 billion figure above, 81 percent and 62 percent are pretty impressive numbers. How those figures were derived, and how those results will be achieved, are left to the imagination. More appeasement.]

“The plan includes a program costing several hundred million dollars to replace or retrofit the 16,300 trucks that service the ports on a regular basis and an aggressive attempt to force international shipping companies to switch to cleaner fuels, slow down as they enter the harbor and retrofit their ships so that they can be powered by electricity when unloading …”

[Replace or retrofit 16,300 trucks? Well, which is it, replacement or retrofitting? Or does anyone know? This is the biggest hoax of all. If a way could be found to accomplish this, with or without a significant financial outlay on the part of owner-operators who are already being short-changed by uncaring officials, wouldn’t the figure be closer to 50,000? Isn’t the volume of containers expected to triple in the foreseeable future?]

“Combined, the Long Beach and Los Angeles ports are the biggest in the nation and among the top five in the world, occupying more than 60 miles of waterfront along the dirty waters of San Pedro Bay …”

[When the volume of containers is tripled, won’t three times the amount of waterfront be required? Impossible. Even acquisition by eminent domain couldn’t bring that much acreage in. We’ll leave it to others to comment on the ‘dirty waters of San Pedro Bay”. And they will.]

“The places are vast, dotted with mountains of 40-foot cargo containers, gangly 300-foot-tall cranes, oceangoing ships and warehouses stretching into the Southern California smog.

“Each year, more than 40 percent of all containerized trade in the nation – valued at more than $ 300 billion – flows through these ports, filling Wal-Marts and other big-box stores across the land…”

[40 percent of all containerized trade in the nation? Is it any wonder that the air is so polluted and the water is so dirty? Is it any wonder that near gridlock conditions prevail on Southern California roadways and railways? Can’t supply chain authorities envision the relief that would be provided by developing other U.S. West Coast ports? Non-U.S. terminal operators have already leaped at the opportunity to cash in on the obstinacy of LA/Long Beach port officials … and still they doze.]

“An engine to Southern California’s growth, the ports generate more jobs – 500,000 – than Hollywood’s movie industry. The longshoremen who work the ports have some of the highest-paying blue-collar jobs in the nation, averaging more than $ 120,000 a year.

“In recent years, as trade with Asia, especially China, has boomed, so has activity in the ports. In 1990, the two ports handled the equivalent of 3 million 20-foot containers.

“This year, they will process more than 16 million, according to Art Wong, a spokesman for the Long Beach facility. David Freeman, chairman of the powerful Los Angeles harbor Commission, estimated that traffic will double by 2020.

“The problem, Freeman said in an interview, is that if the port hopes to handle that increased cargo, they will have to grow. But each time the ports – located in a region that is home to more than 14 million people with no shortage of active environmental and neighborhood associations – have put forward a plan to grow, they are sued. And increasingly they lose…”

[Grow, Mr. Freeman? Where? How? Don’t you have enough troubles to contend with? You were brought in to straighten out this mess because you were smarter than the locals. Prove it.]

“In 2001, for example, a lawsuit by the National Resources Defense Council blocked the Los Angeles port from constructing a 174-acre terminal for the China Shipping Holding Co. because the port did not conduct an environmental impact study. The resulting judgment forced the port to conduct the study and pay more than $ 50 million in environmental mitigation measures.

“‘We realized it was either clean up the air or lose business,’ Freeman said. ‘The time for yakking is over. The only way we’re going to remain competitive is by growing and cleaning up the air at the same time.’

[That’s right, Mr. Freeman, ‘The time for yakking is over’. It’s a time for leading. Show the folks how to do it. The ‘how’ and the ‘where’, for example.]

“The job of cleaning up the air will be daunting, Freeman said. In the Los Angeles area, oceangoing ships, harbor tugs and commercial boats regularly emit many times more smog-forming pollutants than all the power plants in the region.

“Daily, the Los Angeles port spews more nitrogen oxide, 32 tons, and more particulate matter, 1.8 tons, than half a million cars, a typical refinery and power plant combined.

“‘The L.A. ports are like a toxic Superfund site when it comes to the public health threat,’ said Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, a Washington-based environmental group. ‘It is one of the single largest sources of pollution in all of Southern California’…”

[Correction: The L.A. ports are the single largest sources of pollution in all of Southern California.]

“The most difficult part of the equation, port officials estimate, will be cleaning up the tens of thousands of trucks that ply the port every day …”

[Correction: It isn’t the ‘most difficult part of the equation’ … it’s the impossible part.]

“They alone are believed responsible for 40 percent of the nitrogen oxide and 31 percent of the particulate matter emissions from the ports.

“Most of the trucks are older, dirtier short-haul vehicles that travel between the port and the hundreds of distribution centers that line the region’s highways.

“Persuading drivers to switch to cleaner, newer vehicles will be an expensive proposition, even if much of the job is subsidized by the ports themselves, said Thomas Jelenic, an environmental specialist at the Long Beach port.”

[Correction: ‘Persuading the drivers to switch’ won’t be an ‘expensive’ proposition. As we said, it will be an impossible one.]

Well, which is it? “Laid back”? “Fat, dumb and happy”? Or both? They’re not thinking, that’s for sure.