The Port of Oakland's long-awaited proposal to cut diesel air pollution — and the higher cancer risk it brings to neighbors miles away — is inadequate because it lacks details and deadlines, environmental regulators and groups say.
The plan has taken on added sensitivity because a state report in March concluded that West Oakland residents face a cancer risk four times higher than the general Bay Area population because of diesel pollution from trucks, ships, railroads and equipment. The port pollution also elevates cancer risks to a much lesser degree in communities miles away in western Alameda and Contra Costa counties, state officials said.
In releasing the Maritime Air Quality Improvement Plan last month, port managers said it would cut the elevated cancer risk in West Oakland by 85 percent through a mix of cleaner fuels and vehicles, and installation of pollution filters in vehicles and equipment.
The Bay Area and California air pollution boards, however, lead a chorus of groups saying the plan fails to spell out who would do what, by when, to cut pollution — and who would foot the bill.
"The draft plan does not provide clear and sufficient commitments to meet the goal, nor does it convey a sense of urgency to do so expeditiously," said Jack Broadbent, chief executive officer of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. "It needs to be beefed up to assure greater protection of public health."
If the port fails to do more, Broadbent said his nine-county air district might consider adopting a rule requiring the cuts.
Broadbent, however, said he prefers the port and its shipping tenants produce an acceptable plan to cut emissions at the fourth-largest container seaport in the nation.
One environmental group said the plan raises concerns whether the port is putting cargo owners' interests above those of public health.
"The port must cease its systematic delaying tactic in which it has deflected specifics, protected its business partners, and defended its right to do nothing," wrote Brian Beveridge, co-director of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, in comments to the port. "The plan must be rewritten to clearly declare the city's and port's intention to stop polluting the flatland neighborhoods of Oakland."
Health experts say tiny diesel soot particles can lodge deep in the lungs and cause cancer and trigger asthma attacks, strokes and a variety of heart and lung ailments.
An association for shipping and marine terminal companies cautioned that cargo owners could take their business to other ports if fees to pay for pollution reduction are too high.
"We hope that the port will be able to maintain sustainability and balance as it moves down the path of developing clear operations while growing throughput (more freight) and trade," wrote John McLaurin, president of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association.
Port spokeswoman Marilyn Sandifur said she would not comment on the criticism to avoid interfering with the public review process for the proposal. Port managers will prepare responses to the comments before taking the plan this fall to a 35-member port advisory task force and then to a port commission committee and finally the full commission.
"We do care about reducing air pollution," Sandifur said.
The port already has taken steps to reduce diesel soot, and would do more under its air quality plan, she said.
Earlier this year, the Oakland port commissioners decided to charge cargo owners a new fee of $12.50 per 20-foot equivalent container, or a maximum of $25 per container. The fee, which takes effect in January, would raise about $19.2 million a year to cut air pollution and improve goods movement.
The port also is partnering with the state and air pollution district on a $15 million project to install pollution filters on about 1,000 of the 2,500 or so diesel trucks that regularly visit the port.
Cutting pollution could be complicated, though, at a harbor where the port is a landlord for many terminal operators and businesses, port officials said.
Broadbent of the air district said he believes agreements among the air district, port and port tenants can be negotiated to pin down responsibilities for cutting pollution.
"We don't want the port to throw up their hands and say, we can't control our tenants," he said.
Reach Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about the Port of Oakland's Maritime Air Quality Improvement Plan, visit www.portofoakland.com/ and click on "Improving the air for all of us."