The Port of Los Angeles Has Lost Its Environmental Mojo

We’re on the eve of what could be a disastrous vote by the Port of Los Angeles to expand one of its terminals.

Smog over Los Angeles.
Smog over Los Angeles. (Robert S. Donovan / CC BY-NC 2.0)

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We’re on the eve of what could be a disastrous vote by the Port of Los Angeles.

The Port of Los Angeles’ board will vote tomorrow on a major container terminal expansion set for one of its terminals known as the YTI terminal. From an environmental perspective, the project is uninspiring and if approved would serve as an indicator that the Port is no longer the environmental leader it once was, as the project would allow for continued pollution in our region.

At its height, the Port of Los Angeles was an agency known for its efforts to address serious environmental and health issues. Now, it has yet to figure out how to address significant local and regional pollution from its operation and needs to move away from burning fossil fuels to zero and near-zero technologies. If the YTI project is given authorization, it’ll be a move that shows the Port is unwilling to do what’s necessary to meet clean air. Since the Port is unwilling to clean up its operations, this calls for regulatory agencies like the South Coast Air Quality Management District and the California Air Resources Board to step up and step in to force the Port to clean up its operations.

Experts throughout the state—ironically including the Port of Los Angeles itself—have explicitly stated that we need to move to zero emissions technologies at the San Pedro Bay Ports. The YTI project abandons this urgent need. It does not incorporate more zero or near-zero emissions technologies into the project, though these technologies are necessary to protect public health and meet federal and state clean air standards. The Port of Los Angeles is only taking minor steps on this front, and moving this project forward would reinforce this lack of real action by the Port of Los Angeles to achieve zero emissions technologies.

While the Port of Los Angeles is implementing mandatory requirements like installing shoreside power equipment required by California Air Resources Board regulations, it is spending very little to advance this goal beyond current regulatory requirements. If the Port were truly serious about efforts to develop technologies that are desperately needed in the region, it would put more of its own resources and staff time into pursing the effort. It should not be focused on spending hundreds of millions of dollars on expansion projects that will continue to drive us on the road to burning filthy fossil fuels. It’s an unfortunate situation and yes, the Port of Los Angeles could be a great leader.

The Port of LA has played its cards loud and clear, and it’s time for our agencies to ante up. Regulations like the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s Port Backstop Rule and the zero emission drayage truck rule in the last south coast smog plan should be developed quickly and put in the books to assist in our fight for clean air.

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.