Southern California environment news and trends

One reason why they're occupying the port today: the Southern California Intermodal Gateway

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Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

A capital project that would help the harbor complex take in more containers is under fire from the Occupy movement.

The protest action at the harbor complex will include objections about how the ports are handling environmental quality issues. Occupy may be targeting SSA Marine and a port shutdown in Long Beach, but another piece of the puzzle considers goods movement. 

Among the Occupiers at the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles today will be people who live in Wilmington, Long Beach, and Carson. Reductionist characterizations of Occupy and Occupiers make them out to be fools without demands. These people have a specific thing they're unhappy about at the port. They want the Port of Los Angeles to stop developing a 153-acre shipping facility in west Long Beach called the Southern California Intermodal Gateway. They say that doing so would "protect the health of workers and communities against global corporate practices that pollute and exploit local communities."

So what is this intermodal thing? SCIG, as it's known, is a project of BNSF railway. Containers come in on huge ships; those ships dock at terminals. Trucks move goods from terminals to rail roads to get the goods to other places in the US, and they use the 710 freeway now, for an average of 24 miles a trip from the port. The proposed shipping facility would give the goods movement industry a place closer to terminals in which to switch containers from trucks to rail. 

Ports have business reasons for wanting to make containers move faster away from shipping terminals: they want to accommodate as much traffic as possible. More traffic is more profit for the shipping industry, and with other developments in global shipping, the Port of LA has a jones to stay competitive. That's a contributing reason to the Harbor Department of Los Angeles "adopt[ing] Rail Policy to encourage the increased use of rail and provide for on-dock and neardock rail facilities for movement of both existing and future containerized cargo." Backers of the project say "near-dock rail" helps trucks less time on the freeway, and creating less air pollution from those dirty diesel trucks. In fact, according to an environmental impact report prepared for the project, it'll cut freeway trips mostly blamed now for soot that surrounding communities breathe.

But environmentalists and community activists counter that SCIG is "a wolf in sheep's clothing." They're worried about air pollution, as the NRDC's Lizzeth Hennao writes:

The project would generate 2 million truck trips a year. That’s close to 5,500 truck trips a day. While these trucks are cleaner than they used to be thanks to the ports’ Clean Truck Programs, they are still not zero-emissions vehicles. They still pollute toxic diesel particulate matter into the air.

Hennao and others argue fewer trucks on the 710 doesn't necessarily translate to less air pollution. More trucks, they say, will end up in neighborhoods, driving more slowly on local streets, idling there, too. 2 million truck trips will have a health impact, they say. A South Coast Air Quality Management District official speaking at a recent public meeting acknowledged this, saying all those local truck trips add up to a higher cancer risk for SCIG's imputed neighbors.

Making SCIG into an Occupy cause isn't a stretch. Especially when you consider that labor's been involved in Occupy since the beginning, tensely, at times, sure, but woven in and out of the protests pretty consistently, including in Los Angeles. Labor's worked closely with environmentalists in Port of LA causes, and has since the beginning of the Clean Trucks Program to which POLA committed. The Clean Trucks Program, part of the Clean AIr Action Plan, has aimed to create better working conditions for drivers via concession agreements (signed by trucking companies serving the harbor complex).

As for why the years-in-the-making SCIG's the target right now of Occupy-aligned workers and local residents. A draft environmental impact report is out for public review right now; anyone who wants to can read that behemoth and comment through February of next year. That's not going to explain to you how this relates to the larger Occupy movement, and why this is the way to get at the 1%. It seems deeply debatable whether stopping the SCIG hits the 1% or the 99% harder. Maybe that gets explained later. Our reporters on-scene at Occupy the Ports will have to find out through, you know, the actual reporting, how big of a part of the action SCIG really is. 

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