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Port responds to criticisms of its pollution controls

A truck heads into the APM Terminal at the Port of Los Angeles as the sun begins to set
Brian Watt/KPCC
A truck heads into the APM Terminal at the Port of Los Angeles as the sun begins to set

The Port of Los Angeles has come under fire in recent days after officials revealed that it has not achieved nearly a dozen mandated mitigation measures, designed to limit pollution, noise and traffic congestion by one of its largest tenants.

The port’s lead official, however, said many of the emissions at the port are at or below levels anticipated by a 2008 environmental impact report. He also said China Shipping, the company that was to comply with the measures detailed in the report, has been complying with environmental requirements.

“It’s my view — being in the industry now for more than 27 years — that China Shipping has really done a great job in partnering with the Port of Los Angeles, much before I came onboard here at the port in trying to work with us on the environmental strategy, and these folks are really producing results,” said Gene Seroka, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles.

The mitigation measures were included in an environmental impact report, reached as part of a settlement to allow China Shipping to expand its operations. Of the 52 mitigation measures identified as necessary in the report, 11 have not been attained.

A lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which settled with the port over the expansion project, said he was surprised to learn of the shortfalls in attaining the mitigations.

“I was personally shocked when I heard this news. I mean, we worked hard to get to where we were in 2008. It never occurred to me for a second that the port wouldn’t comply,” said David Pettit, a senior attorney for the NRDC.

Pettit said his organization would closely monitor a supplemental environmental report the port will undertake in coming months to update the 2008 project document.

“I want to see what is it that they’re going to propose. Are we going to go forwards and have more progressive measures than existed in 2008? Because technology has moved on, and there’s much better things available now,” Pettit said.

Seroka said the changes made to the environmental impact report would reflect advances in technology as well as address mitigation measures deemed infeasible. An example of an item that would be removed or changed is the requirement that sound walls be constructed to reduce noise from increased traffic, because the effectiveness of sound walls is in question. Seroka said the new changes would not be intended to limit restrictions on China Shipping.

“That’s really not our intent. I don’t want to roll back in time and go to a lower standard than we project. We are seen as a worldwide leader in environmental strategy,” Seroka said.

Other mitigation measures that will be addressed include the requirement that all vessels docked at the China Shipping berths must plug into off-vessel electrical systems rather than run their engines for power. Also all ships must reduce speed within 40 nautical miles of shore.

A report released by the Port of Los Angeles listed shortcomings in attaining those measures, but Seroka said China Shipping is close. He said 98 percent of the company’s vessels used Alternative Maritime Power in 2014 and 99 percent of the ships reduced their speeds appropriately.

Seroka said criticisms that the company was allowed to sign a lease that did not include the mitigation measures could be blamed on prior administration of the port.

“This is a situation that unfortunately we inherited, and what had been looked at in the past, I really can’t describe, because I wasn’t a part of this port’s organization,” Seroka said.

“But going forward, compliance means a number of things, and that is making sure that your partners and customer tenants are along with you in every form that we need to, to be compliant and raise the bar on what we would like to attain in the future,” he added.