(January 27, 2006, updated Jan. 29) -- In a high-visibility Sacramento hearing that contrasted the positions of the City of LB, the South Coast Air Quality Management District and the American Lung Association with the positions of the LB Area Chamber of Commerce, the RR industry, the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association and CARB staff, the CA Air Resources (CARB) narrowly declined (2-3, 2 abstain) to rescind a controversial Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with CA's major railroads (BNSF and UP).
Last year, the LB City Council unanimously voted to support SCAQMD's position and oppose the RR MOU. However, at today's hearing (and to our knowledge for the first time at a public hearing), the LB Area Chamber of Commerce took a position in favor of the RR MOU.
LB Councilwoman Tonia Reyes Uranga was in Sacramento to voice her opposition to the MOU personally. Also travelling to the state capital was Janet Nguyen, the LB Chamber's VP for Government Relations/Public Affairs...to testify in support of the RR MOU.
CARB Boardmember Ron Loveridge (Riverside's Mayor and a member of the SCAQMD governing board) found the contrast so noteworthy that he asked Chamber VP Nguyen to discuss it. When she twice gave responses that Boardmember Loveridge found less than adequate, he asked bluntly what the LB Chamber's policy was on Environmental Justice issues.
Ms. Nguyen's response to that question prompted Boardmember Loveridge to deliver a public rebuke to the Chamber...calling its position as articulated on Environmental Justice "vague and unacceptable."
LBReport.com posts salient portions of Ms. Nguyen's testimony and the ensuing colloquy below.
Internet demand for CARB's webcast of the hearing at times overwhelmed the agency's server capacity, producing overload indications that periodically knocked us (and probably others) offline. As a result, we missed some testimony, including that of Councilwoman Reyes Uranga. At our request, her office provided written text of her testimony, which we post at length below, indicated from her notes.
SCAQMD officials, including Executive Officer Barry Wallerstein (D. Env.) urged CARB's governing board either to rescind the MOU (negotiated with the RRs by CARB staff) or at minimum remove a contentious termination clause. SCAQMD's position opposing the termination clause was backed by clean air officials from other air pollution control districts across the state with little dissent.
SCAQMD, which has called the termination a "poison pill," said it effectively lets the RRs walk away from the MOU if another government body (like SCAQMD) adopts rules more stringent than the MOU. SCAQMD officials said they believe the MOU won't deter air quality violations but will encourage them, giving the RRs leverage over local clean air agencies and clean air prosecutors.
But CARB staff and RR industry reps argued that the RRs need consistent, statewide rules to avoid a "patchwork" of local regulations differing from one region to the next. CARB staffers said they believe the MOU, voluntarily entered into between the RRs and CARB, is a better way to achieve emission reductions quickly than agency rules or state legislation, which the RRs might claim in court are preempted by federal law, creating delays in emission reductions.
SCAQMD officials have previously said that because the South Coast air basin is more heavily impacted by goods movement-related pollution than less urbanized parts of the state, area residents deserve tougher rules to adequately safeguard their health.
The issue could come to a climax as early as next week...when the SCAQMD governing board is scheduled to discuss, and potentially adopt, rules tougher than the MOU regarding railroad locomotive idling, one of the sorest points for SE L.A. County and inland empire residents who live near rail yards.
If SCAQMD adopts tougher rules than the MOU spells out, the RRs could accept the rules...or possibly sue SCAQMD directly (contending federal and other laws trump local regs) or raise the issue with CARB and possibly walk away from the MOU as concerns the South Coast area...or statewide.
"Locomotives are a major source of air pollution in the Southland,
responsible for more smog-forming emissions than one and a half million cars,"
said SCAQMD governing board chair William Burke, Ed.D. in a release issued by the agency on the eve of the CARB hearing. "We can't afford to allow a weak and unenforceable agreement, reached in secret negotiations between the state and the railroads, to be a major
strategy for protecting public health from these harmful emissions."
At least sixteen environmental, health and community groups, from the Natural
Resources Defense Council to the San Pedro and Peninsula Homeowner's Coalition, joined SCAQMD in expressing concerns about the railroad agreement and calling for its rejection.
Among the groups testifying in support of the MOU were the CA Chamber of Commerce, the L.A. Chamber of Commerce and the Pacific Merchant Shipping Ass'n.
[update] The testimony of LB Councilwoman Tonia Reyes Uranga (text provided by her office on Jan. 28 from her notes) is posted below. It was followed in real-time by the LB Area Chamber of Commerce testimony and colloquy with CARB/SCAQMD Boardmember/Mayor of Riverside Ron Loveridge, also posted below:
Councilwoman Reyes Uranga [text from Councilwoman's notes]: As Chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and on behalf of the City of Long Beach, I want to thank you for this opportunity to speak.
The area I represent is immediately adjacent to the existing Union Pacific Intermodal Container Transfer Facility, and the proposed Burlington Northern Santa Fe faculties, multiple oil refineries and several freeways with the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach literally in our back yard.
For many in my city and in my district, we are at the front line in the battle for clean air. While we may be the first casualties and first victims of being at ground zero of a massive goods movement chain -- whose harmful effects have still not been measured nor its mitigation and costs compiled -- we understand that the collateral damage reaches far beyond our cities boundaries. This is why I am here, to comment on the "Status Report on the Implementation of the 2005 ARB/Railroad Statewide Agreement" because what we do in Long Beach has far reaching effects not only our region, but throughout our great State.
The Air Resources Board decided not to take action to either ratify or rescind the agreement and has continued its consideration to this meeting; but according to your staff, this left the agreement in effect in the interim. And according to ARB staff, the railroads and ARB have continued to implement the agreement that has yet to be ratified, clarified or explained to the satisfaction of my community.
The agreement asks the railroads to meet with community members to identify measures to reduce the impacts of Rail Yard emissions on adjacent residential neighborhoods. These were to have been completed by Nov. ’05 but these have been moved to the end of April ’06. To date, no meetings have taken place at UP/ICTF and none have been planned or scheduled to my knowledge. In addition the agreement for a Health Risk Assessment at the UP/ICTF has a proposed completion date for the end of ’07. All of these plans for a facility that has been there for over 15 years. I am always wary of agreements that mandate community dialogue, especially when it is virtually non existent.
I also find MOU suspect because it leaves much of the current operational issues unresolved with numerous exemptions to proposed rules. The fact that the limit on non-essential idling is 60 minutes amazes me, but the potential expansion of an already exhaustive list of exemptions is shocking. If you have ever spent any time near one of these facilities, you would find homes less than 100 feet away are already exposed to 24 hours of noise, light, ground moving vibrations, flooding and extremely poor air quality.
The area is already in an extreme non-attainment area the ozone, NOx and other deadly toxic pollutants, such as diesel particulate matter, and is already in violation of air quality standards -- especially around the 7 schools and over 900 homes in the area. The residents of East Wilmington and West Long Beach are on the front lines and the first casualties of a scientifically documented diesel death zone.
While I have additional concerns regarding the visible emissions reduction program, I have major concerns about the establishment of a community complaint process for idling and smoky locomotives especially in the absence of any community meetings. It appears that many of the requirements will be developed in a vacuum without community input and review.
I am especially interested in a more detailed plan for potential additional mitigation measures which are not fully explained in this MOU. And I am in full agreement with the South Coast Air Quality Management Districts concern over the ambiguities in the release clause. As Dr. Burke, the Chairman of AQMD stated, "The report does not provide clarification as to the ambiguities in the ARB/RR Agreement."
AQMD’s community outreach efforts reflect a commitment to protecting the health & safety of the community by working with the affected communities. This is in stark contrast to other regional & state organizations that cite the need to relax rules in the name of the greater good. [emphasis in original] CLEAN AIR IS THE ULTIMATE GREATER GOOD.
It is time that we all recognize that Environmental Justice is not a matter of cost-benefit analysis. The impacted communities must live with the cost of disruptions in their lives, asthma treatment on other prescriptions and medical bills, so that the region can benefit. Other goods movement related businesses couldn’t begin to compensate us for the daily toll it takes on our lives.
In closing, I would like to thank you for listening and I stand ready to work with CARB & the Railroads to ensure that the interests of the people I serve are protected and air pollution impacts of the rail yards are reduced or mitigated to the fullest extent...
A few minutes after Councilwoman Reyes Uranga testified, the LB Area Chamber of Commerce presented its testimony via Gov't Affairs VP Janet Nguyen. It prompted a noteworthy colloquy with CARB/SCAQMD Boardmember/Mayor of Riverside Ron Loveridge, transcribed below from the (sometimes intermittant) internet webcast:
Ms. Nguyen: ...I am here to represent the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce and my President and CEO Randy Gordon. The Chamber represents over 1,800 businesses within the Long Beach area region...
...The Ports, especially the Long Beach area ports, are part of the distribution network, an important economic engine for the region, especially our city. The MOU achieves a 20% reduction in PM [particulate matter] around rail yards over the next three years. This is faster than any other regulatory agency could have achieved...
...The termination clause is essential to ensure consistency statewide regulation and to avoid a patchwork of regulations...
...We encourage you to leave the agreement [MOU] in place and allow communities to benefit from these reductions over the next three years and beyond.
Boardmember Loveridge...If I could ask, your position contrasts with the position taken by the Long Beach City Council. What is your working relationship with the City of Long Beach?
Ms. Nguyen: Our relationship with the City Council [is] to work very hard in support of the Port and the Long Beach Airport to help businesses and to continue to improve the economic growth of the city and to improve jobs for our [inaudible]
Boardmember Loveridge: I understand that that's what Chambers do, but your position is different than the position of the...
Ms. Nguyen: Sometimes our position is in opposition to the City Council because we take a stand on behalf of our [inaudible] members of our association.
Boardmember Loveridge: For goods movement to work [inaudible] we're talking about moving the goods and also Environmental Justice. Your Environmental Justice position of the Chamber is what?
Ms. Nguyen: We support helping and assisting in finding out ways to reduce [misspeak, means produce] environmental benefits for the city. However we also need to take into consideration hundreds of thousands of jobs that the Ports also bring into our city.
Boardmember Loveridge: I just find that vague and unacceptable.
The LB Area Chamber has endorsed Bob Foster for Mayor and candidates for City Council. LBReport.com today asked the Foster for Mayor campaign manager if Mr. Foster supports or opposes the RR MOU. We intend to pose the same question of the Chamber's other endorsees...and post their answers separately on LBReport.com.
Earlier this month, incumbent Mayor Beverly O'Neill (as she has in previous years) chose to deliver her "State of the City" message not in the public City Council chamber but at a pay-to-attend fundraiser benefiting the LB Area Chamber.