Biden calls for work in polluted ports for EJ activists


President Biden’s support this week for keeping the Port of Los Angeles open 24/7 to boost the nation’s supply chain has infuriated public health advocates and left many questioning his environmental justice promises.

The port, the largest in the country, is also the biggest source of air pollution in Southern California when emissions from all of its activities – ships, trains, trucks and other vehicles – are taken into account.

Along with its neighbor, the Port of Long Beach, the region has been a battleground for environmental justice for decades. Doctors have dubbed it a “diesel death zone,” and frontline neighborhoods are largely communities of color who say the health impacts of poor air quality have been severe.

Theral Golden, an environmental justice advocate from Long Beach, called opening the ports full time a “bad idea.”

He then addressed Biden’s stated commitment to fighting for environmental justice: “I’m not going to say that contradicts him,” said Golden, who has been fighting ports for almost 20 years. “It throws him out the window.”

Biden on Wednesday announced his support for opening the Port of Los Angeles 24 hours a day, following actions taken by the Port of Long Beach weeks ago.

The effort aims to address supply chain shortages linked to COVID-19. Ports receive about 40% of shipping containers imported into the United States, containing everything from televisions to toilet paper. Biden also said Wal-Mart, UPS and FedEx will increase their efforts.

“By remaining open 7 days a week, at night and on weekends, the Port of Los Angeles [be] open over 60 overtime hours a week, ”Biden said at a White House event. “In total, this will almost double the number of hours the port is open since the start of this year. “

Biden did not mention any environmental impact from the expanded operations and the White House did not respond to questions in time for the publication.

Regulators say switching to 24/7 operations will increase emissions of nitrogen oxides, or NOx, a component of ozone, and diesel particulates, a pollutant associated with many respiratory problems and other health problems.

State officials recently discovered that there had already been an increase in NOx emissions due to port congestion and the many ships waiting outside the port to dock and unload.

An estimate by the California Air Resources Board earlier this year concluded that NOx emissions had increased by about 14.5 tonnes per day, an increase of about 40% from 2019 levels. Most of the l The increase is due to additional ships at anchor and an increase in trucking activity, said Nahal Mogharabi, spokesperson for the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD), the local regulatory agency.

“South Coast AQMD is concerned about emissions from ports,” she said in an email. “The basin has the worst ozone in the country and ports are the biggest source of emissions. In addition, disadvantaged communities near ports continue to have higher air toxics cancer risks due to pollution from air pollution. ports. “

Public health advocates reacted with concern.

Opening the ports 24/7 is “basically we’re going to get these cheap products and everything that goes through these ports at the expense of the people there,” said Dr Afif El- Hasan, Orange County pediatrician and American Lung Association volunteer.

“It makes me want to pull my hair out,” he said.

An economic power

The Port of Los Angeles is often presented as an economic engine.

About 125,000 companies import through the port, executive director Gene Seroka said on a call with reporters yesterday, and 75,000 companies export out of the port.

More than 100 kilometers long trains leave the complex every day and some 18,000 truck drivers are registered to travel away from the port.

“It is the most complex infrastructure project in the world,” Seroka said.

The port has taken action to tackle air emissions, including air quality action plans and seeking to fully implement a clean trucks program to reduce diesel particulate emissions and other emissions.

“This conversation with the community… NGOs and environmental groups goes on here at the port every day,” Seroka said.

Some of the port’s efforts have worked – to a point. NOx emissions have been reduced since peaking in 2006, according to AQMD data from the south coast, but have largely stabilized since.

Both ports “have a history of reducing emissions through the implementation of their air quality action plans,” Mogharabi said, “but progress has stagnated over the past decade, just at a time when emissions reductions were to accelerate “.

Lawyers have criticized this trend.

“Over the past four years or so, ports have enjoyed the environmental success they had a decade and a half ago,” said Adrian Martinez, lawyer for Earthjustice.

Mogharabi said that in the short term, air pollution conditions could improve due to prevailing weather and winds and reduced emissions from ships anchored offshore with their engines running.

“However,” she added, “in the long term, the South Coast AQMD believes 24-hour operation will lead to increased throughput / emissions potentially outweighing the benefits of nighttime and congestion. . “

El-Hasan said the impacts of air pollution could be greater than that. Many goods arriving through the ports are transported by shuttle to the warehouse and logistics center in Southern California in San Bernardino County, east of Los Angeles. This region has one of the worst air qualities in the country and also raises concerns for environmental justice.

“You get a double whammy from this,” El-Hasan said.

Biden is committed to making environmental justice a priority in his administration, and Vice President Kamala Harris has been a longtime leader on the issue.

Biden signed executive orders demanding a government-wide review of policies and practices that lead to injustices for low-income and minority communities. He also sought to channel more money to these communities through the climate and other proposed programs.

But many wondered if the administration had put economic – and political – considerations above the environment and public health with the announcement of the port. Biden’s approval rating has declined since mid-August, which some analysts have attributed to higher inflation and lower levels of consumer confidence, both of which appear to be linked to Biden’s announcement at the port. from Los Angeles this week.

“There was no recognition for anything except the economy,” El-Hasan said.

Golden, the Long Beach attorney, said he could only hope the decision was rushed and not fully verified.

“All you do is put more negative pressure on it which will create more negative effects on the health of the people here,” he said. “I hope this is an oversight and something that was not fully understood before they released it – that would be my hope.”

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