Board of Port Commissioners supports public health goals in its Maritime Clean Air Strategy
SAN DIEGO, May 14, 2021 – Portside communities have long suffered from air pollution generated by Port of San Diego operations, which causes cancer, heart disease, asthma, and other respiratory problems. On Tuesday, May 11, 2021, the Port’s Board of Port Commissioners held a virtual hearing on the Port’s draft Maritime Clean Air Strategy (MCAS), a plan that is supposed to outline how the Port will reduce the air pollution it generates and address public health in Portside communities.
A coalition of community residents, and state and local organizations led by Environmental HeaIth Coalition (EHC) mobilized in opposition to the current draft MCAS. They argued that it would maintain the status quo and not meaningfully reduce harmful air pollutants. In response, the Board directed Port staff to develop a new draft that sets specific public health goals for clean air, creates an achievable transition plan to zero emission heavy-duty trucks, while supporting economic development. The Board also asked staff to increase community and stakeholder outreach and provide a longer review and comment period.
“The MCAS as we know is a guiding document, but even as a guiding document it holds itself to be transformative on how we provide a path on encouraging sustainable economic growth that won’t be at the expense of public health,” said Port Commissioner Sandy Naranjo.
Agreeing with Naranjo, Commissioner Jennifer LeSar said, “I really believe that clean air is a civil rights issue.” She called for approaching the MCAS from a restorative lens that does not focus on just meeting minimum requirements but embraces aspirational goals that push the Port to lead.
Some commissioners called for an approach that balances public health with tenants and industry interests. While maintaining the importance of economic vitality, Board Chair Michael Zucchet reminded the commission of the Port’s imbalanced history.
“I don’t think there has been a balance. I think there has been a 100% emphasis on commerce and the maritime industry…,” said Zucchet. “…we can all think of all the ways where environmental quality, where public health has been sacrificed over the years…”
Portside communities, like National City and Barrio Logan, have some of the highest levels of diesel pollution in the region. Children in these communities have more than double the rate of asthma emergency room visits than the county average. A recent report found that over 80% of the cancer risk San Diegans breathe in is from diesel pollution.
“My husband suffers from respiratory problems and has cancer, and the pollution that comes from the port and the trucks that pass through my community every day makes his medical condition worse…,” shared Alicia Sanchez, a National City resident, during the public comment portion.
The coalition led by EHC is calling for an MCAS that 1) decreases the risk of cancer by reducing diesel and other toxic air pollutants, 2) requires heavy-duty diesel drayage trucks to transition to 100% zero-emission vehicles by 2030 – five years ahead of the state’s requirements, and 3) provides the infrastructure, funding, and implementation mechanisms necessary to achieve these goals. Over 200 community members signed a petition in support of these environmental justice goals.
“With the amount of diesel pollution our communities are exposed to, they cannot afford to wait until the state’s 2035 ZEV goal to breathe cleaner air. We need a commitment from the Port of San Diego that they will lead the state in emission reduction, not begrudgingly follow,” said Diane Takvorian, the executive director of Environmental Health Coalition. “Based on what we heard today, it looks like this new Board of Port Commissioners is listening to the community and is ready to do their part so we can all breathe clean air. We are cautiously optimistic, but we will not let up the pressure.”
Port staff is expected to produce a new draft for public review and comment, before presenting a final draft to the Board of Port Commissioners in September 2021. To watch the May 11, 2021, hearing, please click here. The MCAS is item 15.
Communications Director, Environmental Health Coalition
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Founded in 1980, Environmental Health Coalition (EHC) builds grassroots campaigns to confront the unjust consequences of toxic pollution, discriminatory land use, and climate change. Visit online http://www.environmentalhealth.org.