GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER's stance on cleaning up the environment suddenly took a U-turn when, among hundreds of pieces of legislation, he vetoed a bill that would have imposed a pollution fee on cargo ships at California's ports.
The fee was designated to pay for clean-air programs. Written by state Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, the legislation would have imposed a fee of up to $60 for each 40-foot cargo container moving through the ports of Oakland, Los Angeles and Long Beach. The bill could have brought in as much as $300 million a year to fund programs that clear the air around port communities. However, some Republican heavyweights got into the mix, such as Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska who urged Schwarzenegger to veto the bill with fears of potential rising costs to her constituents.
Schwarzenegger has claimed to be for cleaning up our air and he championed landmark legislation to combat greenhouse gas emissions. But he went off path with the ports. State regulators say 3,700 premature deaths each year can be attributed to pollution at California's ports.
Locally, there is great concern in West Oakland neighborhoods that border the port with ships and trucks going in and out of the area spewing diesel exhaust in the air. We are sure those concerns exist in the communities near the ports in Long Beach and Los Angeles.
Schwarzenegger claims the bill failed to direct money to the Central Valley where much of the port traffic comes and goes. He also said it failed to assure this was the most cost-effective way to reduce emissions. These excuses are debatable, but even if his points are good, a congressional delegation from Hawaii and Alaska, who joined Palin in opposition, wanted to modify the bill to exclude domestic commerce between U.S. ports.
The bottom line is that despite pressure from a vice presidential candidate or that the economy is struggling, Schwarzenegger should have taken action. Cleaning up the ports wasn't going to be a free ride in any economic time. California needs to implement a plan to cut emissions at its ports, and even a modified plan would've been a start.
We understand times are tough, but we can't take our eye off the future. Schwarzenegger made a mistake when he vetoed this bill.