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    Public Pounds Port-Related Pollution At Congresswoman Millender-McDonald "Open Mike" Town Meeting

    Jan 10/04 Millender-McDonald Town Hall(January 11, 2004) -- In well-attended LB Town Hall style meeting, 37th district Congresswoman Juanita Millender-McDonald (D., LB-Carson) urged support for an $18 billion goods movement bill (HR 3398) -- authored by her and backed by an array of business and government groups as well as LB Mayor Beverly O'Neill -- only to have several speakers slam the Ports as pollution generators and charge that the pending legislation will worsen pollution and harm area residents' health.

    Despite being held on an early Saturday evening (6:00-7:30 p.m.), roughly 150 people filled over half the seats in the LB City Council chamber. We post salient extended excerpts, with streaming audio coverage, below.

    Not all speakers discussed pollution or the ports, but several did...and in terms once nearly unheard of in Long Beach. LB writer Bry Myown said, "We do not believe the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are an economic engine for our community. They are job exporters. What they are is asthma engines for our children, cardiopulmonary disease and predictable excess cancer engines for our community."

    The Ports of LB and L.A. are immediately adjacent to Congresswoman Millender-McDonald's district. The Ports are in the district of Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R., HB-LB-PV).

    Cong. Millender-McDonald denied that her bill promotes pollution and publicly pledged to take a look at Port-related pollution. "My bill does not in any way enhance pollution...What it does is to move goods that are already coming from these ports throughout this," she said, later adding "[T]he bill [HR 3398] is going through without a doubt, but I also will look at the pollution and also the very dismal air quality down here. Now I'm telling you that I will look at that...I will look at what many of you have talked about and that's this Port and the very bad quality of air that you're breathing."

    Extended salient excerpts follow (not all speakers are indicated). Streaming audio of a pointed exchange between some audience members and the Congresswoman on Port pollution also follows below.

    Jan 10/04 Millender-McDonald Town HallCongresswoman Millender-McDonald: [during introduction prior to audience input] [HR 3398] is a bill of national economic significance because that bill speaks to transportation corridors that are congested that are not moving traffic, moving people and moving goods out of Ports throughout this country and therefore stagnating the economy. I've always said that this region here is the region that's going to kick up California's economy and kick up the national economy.

    And so this bill that I'm introducing will do just that. That is a bill that has been embraced by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National League of Cities, a conglomerate of coalitions of maritime stakeholders, the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce, the Carson Chamber of Commerce and we're now going for the gusto: we've got to talk to the President.

    And when I speak with him, I will let him know that this bill will be a bill that opens up corridors not only in California, not only in Long Beach, but throughout the country, because the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles sends 45% of goods throughout this country, it emanates from these two ports. They are the most important ports in the country, and we want the President and everyone in Congress to know that...

    That is one of the big bills that we're going to face when we return back to sit for the second session of the 108th Congress...and I'm happy to say that yours truly will be the lead on that, and I'm happy to also say that I have gotten both the Republicans and the Democrats on board with that bill...

    The second piece of legislation that I've had both the Mayor of this great city, our Mayor Beverly O'Neill and the Mayor of Los Angeles Jim Hahn to call me, because that bill recognizes that we should have a steady stream of funding for Port security projects.

    I want you to know that this member is the only member who's introduced more Port security bills than anyone else in Congress. And I've done that because we are at a vulnerable state here with these two Ports. They're wide open. I have talked with Admiral Collins of the U.S. Coast Guard...we have had Undersecretary of Homeland Security, Asa Hutchison out here looking at the Ports, and I just want you to know I will bring them all -- including the President -- out here to look at the Ports, because it's important that we secure you down here in one of the most vulnerable areas of this nation... ...On port security, two bills, one by a Democrat, one by a Republican. Democrat Jerold Nadler has HR 1010 that would require inspecting all cargo containers coming in, and Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, who represents a chunk of Long Beach, has HR 3028 which would let the Port impose fees to do security measures. Do you support or oppose them?

    Congresswoman Millender-McDonald: I am not supportive of the fees [Rohrabacher bill] as it stands right now. I think we have to do something about that. We have to look at things. I'm not a knee-jerk reacting legislator, and so when Dana brought that to me I told him that I will talk with the two Port Executive Directors...they were not amenable to that in its present form...[but] I think they would if there some amendments done to that bill, and so I'm looking at perhaps amendments to that. Dana recognizes that I'm the senior [member] on Transportation [Committee] and he recognizes that what I'm saying might be a little more conducive to the House passing that bill. And Nadler's bill?

    Congresswoman Millender-McDonald: The other bill that you spoke of, I'm not familiar with that bill but I am the person who's carrying the bill that Sen. Dianne Feinstein has, because you know after 9-11 we then asked for a manifest to be looked at before they come into the waters of this country, and so that's a bill that I'm on. I'm also on a bill that will look at high technology for ships coming through...

    So that bill that Sen. Feinstein and I are carrying, I'm carrying it on the House and she's carrying it on the Senate, will speak to more Port security for ships before they enter the waters of the United States.

    Jan 10/04 Millender-McDonald Town HallDr. Gordon LaBedz: ...I am a family physician at Kaiser-Permanente and I am here representing the Sierra Club. We have 750,000 members in the United States and 58,000 members in this area.

    And I'm showing you an AQMD map here...the black area [on the map] is what we call the "Diesel Death Zone." All of you live in this black area. Thousands of people die every year in this extra, according to the AQMD study that I'm showing you here.

    And we'll be having a meeting with your staff to discuss this issue, because I was very, very concerned with some of the things you've said this evening about the Port.

    The Port is the single biggest environmental issue in your district. Thousands of people die every year from Port pollution. It is the single biggest stationary source of pollution in southern California.

    The ships burn the dirtiest fuel available. The trucks burn the second dirtiest fuel available.

    And the 710 freeway, the Alameda Corridor, all contribute to that pollution.

    Rohrabacher's bill says U.S. taxpayers should not pay for Port expansion, Port profits and exporting jobs to foreign countries. American jobs are now all going to China.

    And we're very concerned that our taxes would be going to pay to support the biggest polluter in southern California.

    And I would like to talk to your staff about your unquestioning support of this vicious polluter that is killing your constituents. Thank you. [applause]

    Congresswoman Millender-McDonald: Thank you so very much. I am co-sponsoring a Brownfields bill, because we know of that pollution that's permeating in the area. We have also talked with the former chairman of the P.U.C., the Public Utilities Commission of the state of California, who helped me to push the Alameda Corridor bill, we're looking now using coal for fuel that will help to generate a much cleaner fuel for trucks, so that we will not have the pollution that is going on.

    I see a lady behind you waving "no, no, no." I'm not saying gotten there yet, but I'm talking with him about...clean fuel. This is why the Energy Bill is stuck, because we are trying to move from MTBE to Ethanol...

    And so I would love to talk with you, sir, because I have asked the Sierra Club to talk with me on many issues. We see that the Clean Water Act is being weakened. We see that the Clean Air Act is being weakened. We have got to fight that neither one of those bills are weakened. I am fighting for that.

    And so I will certainly say to you that while there will be some pollution always in the air, it doesn't have to be this thick and this onerous to the citizens who live in this area. And so I will be working with [Cong.] Dana Rohrabacher on anything that he has that will circumvent the pollution down here, but being that you have all of this intermodal, you're going to have some pollution no matter how much you try, but we can curtail that as much as possible and we're trying to do that as much as possible.
    Jan 10/04 Millender-McDonald Town Hall
    Photo courtesy Linda Ivers
    Bry Myown: ...Surely you know that in the year you became our Congresswoman we in Long Beach were number 37 in the nation for people living below the poverty level, but in 2001 we were number 27, and that in 2002 we were number 10 and our rates are still climbing.

    This is in the wake of opening Pier T and China Ocean, the biggest Port expansion we've ever seen.

    We do not believe the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are an economic engine for our community. They are job exporters. What they are is asthma engines for our children, cardiopulmonary disease and predictable excess cancer engines for our community.

    And if you talk to our Mayor who is in the U.S. Conference of Mayors, if you talk to our Vice Mayor who is the chair of the Gateway COG [Council of Governments] and the Alameda Corridor, if you talk to our lobbyist who is paid more than half a million a year by this city to lobby you, you may think that we support [HR] 3398 and want $18 billion for goods movement infrastructure.

    But if you read the local paper, you know that they did not share their plans for the freeway with us, that hundreds of people have attended meetings and asked them to scale back those plans, we believe...

    Cong. Millender-McDonald: What plans? I'm not privy...

    Ms. Myown: The I-710 major corridor study plans. And we in this community were shocked to read about your request for $18 billion targeted for goods movement infrastructure and your leadership of the goods movement caucus, because we believe that if people east of California want to lose their jobs and shop at WalMart, they can pay for goods movement infrastructure.

    What we want is a transportation bill that gives us a clean, safe and employed community. [applause]

    Cong. Millender-McDonald: Thank you very much. My bill does not in any way enhance pollution. [Audience interjection: Absolutely does.] It has not, it does not [more audible audience disagreement]. No, it does not. It does not.

    What it does is to move goods that are already coming from these ports throughout this. We must move goods that are coming in from these ports. [audience interjection: no.] We have that obligation. What do you want us to do, to shut them down? [audience interjections. Yes.] We cannot do that folks. [cross talk] We cannot shut them down. This is not WalMart. This is a bill that I have introduced that will move goods and not clog them up on freeways.

    [Audience interjection: They're killing us.] No, good are not killing you. [audience: The diesel emissions...].

    Do not say that the bill is killing you. The bill is not killing you. It is the pollution of the trucks that we're trying now to get cleared up, sir, on these freeways. I have just begun to study the pollution of those trucks. The many trucks that are coming out of those ports are not in good shape. They are polluting and we've got to look at that, and we've got to find solutions to that.

    But you can't shut down an economy, people, that should give jobs to you because of a Goods Movement caucus bill, please. [audience interjection seeking to be heard] Let's be sensitive to this. I'm only telling you that I am with you on the environment. I am with you on, [the] Goods Movement bill is not an environmental hazardous bill. It is only saying that we've got to move the goods that are in the ports more effectively, more efficiently and to send them off and over the country...

    Don May [CA Earth Corps, speaking from the audience]. When you pushed for the $10 billion for the Alameda Corridor, it in fact was to get those trucks off the 710. It hasn't happened because the subsidy of removing the excise taxes, 50 cents a gallon off diesel, has put those trucks onto the 710. If you took one penny of every dollar of that $18 million [means billions] and spent it to clean up those emissions. This kills more people, twice as many people in 1998 died in emissions as died from gunfire.

    Cong. Millender-McDonald: Do you know, I do know that? I know the statistics on that, but let me say this to you, sir. Let me say this to you.

    The Alameda Corridor is my baby. AB 871 developed the Alameda Corridor...But what I did say was this was to prevent all of these trucks on the freeways. They were to go down the Alameda Corridor with the rail. It was not until that bill was done and I did not know that the trucks were not going to be a part of that Alameda Corridor.

    So somebody slipped that in, and I was unaware of that. I raised particular hell, but I will tell you this. Now we've got to do something about the trucks irrespective of the fact that they did not provide [for trucks on the Alameda Corridor]...

    But as I told them, that was not the plan, if you look at the bill, it said rail and trucks. And so those are some of the things that happen sometimes behind our backs, that we're totally unaware of, and I did not know that trucks were not there until the recent years once this thing was up and going, and that is the truth.

    Mr. May: But you do know that the T-LU, and particularly the bill to expand the 710 freeway, is going to put more pollution out there. It's not the trucks. Get rid of the trucks. Put the containers onto the trains...

    Cong. Millender-McDonald: That is very true...We're talking about looking at more rail, less trucks, so we are talking about that too. But you know what, sir? It takes money and time. We cannot do it yesterday. We cannot do it tomorrow. But I guarantee you, we will try to fix the, we recognize what you're saying. The sulfur that's coming out of here. The coal and all, I recognize that. And I have fought against it.

    But we must continue to fight. You must continue to fight. While I'm in Washington, you fight and I'll be with you on that, because we must not have pollution to the degree [that we have it.]...

    So of course, in big cities you're going to have some pollution, but you don't have to have it to the degree that you can cut it with a knife.

    To hear the preceding exchange, click Town Hall audience interaction with with Congresswoman, Jan 10, 2004 (7:04)

    If you don't have the "real audio" playback unit, you can download it free at: RealOne player download

    Kathleen Woodfield [LA harbor area resident]...[refers to Goods Movement caucus]...I'm reading from here, the caucus examines how our nation's transportation infrastructure can best support the movement of goods in a timely, efficient and safe manner. I would like to say that the way it is now, it is not a safe manner because it is so heavily polluting that it is causing dangerous and toxic environment for our children and for all of us. We as parents also have to be healthy so we can raise our children.

    ...If the Goods Movement bill [HR 3398] was talking about finding new innovative ways to move goods that is more safe and that recognizes that the air quality cannot tolerate any more of the way it's being done now. What it does instead, it seems to me, is to make the way that it's being done now which is unsafe in terms of air quality bigger.

    And what we need to do is work away from the old way and find new ways to move these goods.

    The other thing is that we need to share the burden. You had said well we can't shut down the Ports. Well that's true, but we need to look at ways to share the burden of the goods coming to this country because [applause]...

    Cong. Millender-McDonald: When you say share the burden, define that for me.

    Ms. Woodfield: What I mean by that is to have other ports take on some of this burden. Instead of these two ports [LB and LA], we happen to have the two largest ports of the country right here in the same place, and that is really wreaking havoc on the communities in terms of air quality, in terms of traffic, in terms of health.

    And so we can share that burden by having some of these goods go into San Francisco, they can go into Georgia, they can go into New York, instead of bringing it all through here.

    The ports are identifying a 400% growth by 2020. There's no way we can sustain that...The money, the $18 billion needs to be spent towards finding cleaner ways to move these goods [applause] and relieving these communities of the burden...

    Cong. Millender-McDonald: I have heard you now and thank you so much. I have to also look out for your well-being on every front. I cannot just be so myopic, my dear friends, to look at one thing and one thing only. You would not want me to do that.

    And while I understand what you're saying, the bill [HR 3398] is going through without a doubt, but I also will look at the pollution and also the very dismal air quality down here. Now I'm telling you that I will look at that.

    Because what I'm trying to do is, I will guarantee you that the Goods Movement bill will bring jobs...We must have jobs, people. We must also have good quality air. You should be looking at the Clean Air Bill, the Clean Water Bill, and don't let this [Bush] administration water that down which they are about to do.

    So these are things that we're trying to stop in their tracks while I will look at what many of you have talked about and that's this Port and the very bad quality of air that you're breathing.

    Now I do know that the Port has a heck of a lot of trucks coming out of it. It's going to quadruple over the next decade or two. We understand that. So we've got to move the traffic out of the 710...We understand what you're saying.

    We cannot change Ports. We cannot close down Ports. We've got to live with them, but they have to also be amenable to what we're talking about and that is a better quality of life.

    Congresswoman Millender-McDonald offered to remain an extra half hour beyond the scheduled end time but after a few additional questions, LB City Hall staff insisted that the Council Chamber be closed by their original deadline.

    During the meeting, the Congresswoman revealed that she and LB Mayor O'Neill had met at LB Airport the day before (Jan. 9) with the Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Aviation to discuss, among other things, federal funding for a "facelift" at LB Airport. (For separate coverage, click: here.)

    Congresswoman Millender-McDonald also indicated during the meeting that she would be leaving for Iowa on Sunday morning before we asked after the meeting whom she was supporting in the coming Iowa caucuses.

    Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, she replied.

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