Ship Pollution Escapes Oakland Diesel Debate


Editor’s Note: This was a multi-party contribution involving Kim Komenich (photos) Kwan Booth (text) (editing) Spot.Us (financial support). This is part of a series that we’ll be posting over the next week.

While much of the debate on reducing emissions from the Port of Oakland has revolved around trucks, diesel pollution from the trucks is estimated to make up only 4 percent of West Oakland’s overall toxic burden.

A much larger percentage has been attributed to the international shipping companies that rent the ports — yet attempts to impose fees to pay for pollution controls have been sidetracked by global trade regulations and opposition by the state of California and even special interest groups in Oakland and the Bay Area.

Fees targeting the shipping containers that pass through the Port of Oakland are usually opposed by the Oakland Chamber of Commerce, Alameda County Supervisors Scott Haggerty and Nate Miley, and the Waterfront Coalition — a Washington, D.C.-based group of importers, exporters, and shipping companies.

These parties have repeatedly expressed concern that any new fees would only encourage shipping companies to abandon the Port of Oakland in favor of cheaper competitor.

However, a 2006 study conducted by Energy and Environmental Research Associates, and funded by the Coalition for Clean Air and the Natural Resources Defense Council, found little evidence to support this theory.

In each of the ports included in the study — Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oakland — research shows that any proposed fees would have to reach $43 for each 20 feet of shipping-container capacity before the ports saw any significant reduction in international traffic.

Proposed fees for all three ports have been around $30 per 20 feet of shipping-container capacity.

Opponents also said that international ships are protected under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, and therefore fall under federal jurisdiction, making taxation by the port, or state government, impossible.

Despite this opposition, the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles both instituted new container fees in 2007 — and in May 2009, California Assemblyman Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) introduced a bill to pressure the ports to speed up environmental efforts.

Image Courtesy mark.hogan @ Flickr under Creative Commons License.

1 thought on “Ship Pollution Escapes Oakland Diesel Debate”

  1. Michael Coates

    Do you have a source for the 4% number — it seems right, but I haven’t seen a reference for it. Thanks.

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