California Ports Ready Rules on Shipping Pollution

Two of the nation's largest ports are set to crack down on one of the last unregulated sources of pollution: cargo ships and unloading operations. The ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles announced the "revolutionary" rules after lengthy negotiations.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The two biggest American ports, yesterday, unveiled a plan to reduce diesel exhaust. These are both California ports: Los Angeles and Long Beach, and they say they will cut the pollution by 50 percent over the next five years. NPR's Elizabeth Shogren reports it is the most ambitious effort, ever, to control port pollution.

(Soundbite of ship horn)

ELIZABETH SHOGREN reporting:

Thousands of ships, trucks and trains converge each year at the two ports. All of them run on dirty diesel engines. Health officials say the pollution from those engines greatly increases the risk that people in southern California will develop cancer, asthma and other serious health problems. But the ports are a crucial part of the nation's economy.

Dr. GERALDINE KNATZ (Executive Director, Port of Los Angeles): The volume of traffic that comes through this port complex just dwarfs all the other ports around the United States.

SHOGREN: Geraldine Knatz is the executive director of the Port of L.A. She says the only way the ports could keep expanding was to find a way to grow without increasing pollution.

Dr. KNATZ: And if we can't grow, the people in the rest of the country are not going to get their stuff when they want it, so - and that's our mission, to do that and do it in a very clean way.

SHOGREN: Under the new plan, within five years, trucks must have state-of-the-art pollution controls. Trains must use ultra-clean diesel and within ten years, all container ships must plug into electric power when they dock, or find some other way not to pollute while they're in port.

Knatz says the plan will put these southern California ports way ahead of the rest of the world.

Dr. KNATZ: So, we will be well on our way toward our goal of eliminating health risk. No one's come out with something this significant.

SHOGREN: Steve Stallone of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union says the plan's a bold step.

Mr. STEVE STALLONE (Press Spokesperson, International Longshore and Warehouse Union): To us, it's very important for the health of our members, the workers who work at the ports, because before that pollution becomes pollution in the community, it's pollution in the workplace, and we're breathing it first.

SHOGREN: But some environmentalists are skeptical. Julie Masters is with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Ms. JULIE MASTERS (Director, Natural Resources Defense Council): We just don't know if this plan will be strong enough to actually protect public health. The jury's out on that because there's not enough specifics, right now, in the plan.

SHOGREN: Masters says one big problem is it's not clear who will pay for the cleanup. The price will be in the billions, and Masters says the shipping industry should get the bill, not taxpayers. Some industry executives have a different concern.

Mr. T.L. GARRETT (Vice President, Pacific Merchants Shipping Association): The time schedule is incredibly aggressive and optimistic.

SHOGREN: T.L. Garrett represents the Pacific Merchants Shipping Association. He says lots of the equipment required by the plan won't be available in time to meet deadlines. He and other critics will have a month to comment on the draft plan. Elizabeth Shogren, NPR News, Washington.

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