Clean Energy and Clean Ports Are Just What the Doctor Ordered

Now is the time for our leaders in the Los Angeles region to take ownership of the zero emissions transition.


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The recent wave of disgusting air days in the Los Angeles region solidified the area’s necessity for both clean energy and clean ports to help us reclaim our air.

The estimated 18 million people living in the Los Angeles region deserve the reprieve that these two things can bring, and it starts with the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Collectively, these two ports pollute more than any fixed source of air pollution in the region. If we want to breathe clean air, we need to start by transitioning these filthy fossil fuel operations to zero emissions technologies run by clean energy.

Several health, community and environmental groups including Earthjustice have articulated a path forward. We want to double down on advancing zero emissions technologies while dramatically increasing clean energy at the ports.

Here’s where each port currently stands:

The Port of Los Angeles has put out a series of lackluster expansion projects that demonstrate little to no environmental vision on clean air. The public pushed back on the YTI terminal expansion project and demanded more accountability. While the port is currently working on modest efforts to advance zero emission technologies for their trucks, they appear to have no plan to expand those projects to incorporate the thousands of trucks and other equipment that primarily run on diesel fuel. Without a plan, this equipment continues to spew a toxic brew of pollutants into our communities’ air.  

The Port of Long Beach recently made a commitment that extends a contract to ship filthy coal and petroleum coke, a byproduct of the oil-refining process. Despite this move, the port has a more ambitious vision to incorporate clean energy onto its property. Port of Long Beach’s executive director, John Slangerup, recently made an unprecedented announcement in support of creating what he calls an “Energy Island” for solar, wind and other clean technologies. We’re waiting for more details about the proposal, but to date Long Beach’s port appears to be showing more initiative to advance zero emissions technologies and energy innovation than Los Angeles’ port.

Breathers in Los Angeles are waiting for actual commitments and a real plan to enable zero emissions technologies, particularly for large trucks and cargo handling equipment. The path to preventing sickness and suffering generated by port pollution is not empty promises and rhetoric, but an actual plan with accountability to bring on a clean energy movement at the ports. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has an open opportunity to help and catch up to Long Beach. In the near future, Mayor Garcetti will outline his blueprint for sustainability in Los Angeles’ first ever Sustainability Plan. We hope this plan will include a bold vision for advancing zero emissions technologies at the Port of Los Angeles.

Exposure to Los Angeles’ polluted air has been the toughest on our most vulnerable populations of elderly and children, especially those with lung or heart diseases. The people who call this region home deserve to breathe clean air. As an organization, Earthjustice has been consistently fighting for cleaner air and tougher enforcement of air plans. We want to bid farewell to asthma agitators and the risks that exposure to filthy air can cause, including death.

The stakes could not be any higher as our air quality is still unhealthy to breathe. Both cities need to make sure their ports step up to the challenge. We need to put the pressure where pressure is due.

Luckily, the freight industrial complex in Southern California provides us with an opportunity to mash two potatoes with one fork.  

Based in Los Angeles, Adrian works on clean air, clean energy, and healthy communities issues as a deputy managing attorney for Earthjustice's Right to Zero campaign. Follow him on Twitter @LASmogGuy.

The California Regional Office fights for the rights of all to a healthy environment regardless of where in the state they live; we fight to protect the magnificent natural spaces and wildlife found in California; and we fight to transition California to a zero-emissions future where cars, trucks, buildings, and power plants run on clean energy, not fossil fuels.