Over the objections of officials at Los Angeles and Long Beach harbors, a regional air quality board moved Friday to increase its environmental oversight at the nation's largest port complex.
By a vote of 8-3, the South Coast Air Quality Management District board advanced a so-called "backstop measure" that would kick in only if the ports don't meet their own emission-reduction goals. Officials with both ports had argued that they could control their pollution levels without regulatory intervention.
Management district staff members will now create a reduction plan that the ports would follow if they fall short of reaching their long-standing emission-reduction goals.
"This is an added insurance policy to a voluntary effort that has been proceeding very well and is successful," said Sam Atwood, a spokesman for the management district, the pollution-control agency for Orange County and parts of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino County. "It just ensures residents of the port areas and all of Southern California that the ports are going to honor their commitment to continue to clean the air."
Arley Baker, spokesman for the Port of Los Angeles, said port officials were concerned with the ruling and were evaluating their options.
Art Wong, a spokesman for the Port of Long Beach, said port officials were disappointed with the board's action.
"This is clearly over-regulation, unnecessary and counterproductive for encouraging future voluntary efforts," Wong said.
Morgan Wyenn, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, called Friday's meeting significant because the regional management district has not historically regulated the ports.
"Today what the board did was it said they are going to regulate the ports as indirect sources under the Clean Air Act," she said. "As an environmental advocate fighting to clean up this region and who understands the consequences of what the board did today, I will definitely remember this as a significant step in the right direction."
Federal regulators issue the bulk of rules relating to the ports, but local management districts are charged with making sure entities in their areas follow clean-air standards, Atwood said.
Of particular concern, Atwood said, are levels of tiny pieces of matter produced at both ports, often by diesel ship and truck engines.
"These are particulates that basically come from burning fuel of any type," Atwood said. "They are so tiny they get into your lungs and sometimes your bloodstream. They cause serious health affects."
The ports have moved to substantially reduce their harmful emissions in recent years. They worked together to create a San Pedro Bay Ports Clean Air Action Plan in 2006.
From 2005 to 2011, the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach slashed air pollution by roughly 75 percent, according to port officials. The ports have forced companies to haul goods using cleaner, newer trucks. They've also pushed shipping companies to slow down their vessels as they reach the harbor and have started making cleaner electric power available to ships in port.
If more pollution-curbing efforts by the ports continue to be successful, it could make Friday's vote by the management district essentially moot, Atwood said.
"The ports simply need to carry out what they have already committed to do," he said.
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