Originally posted at www.foxandhoundsdaily.com
In March of this year, myself and other Los Angeles Harbor commissioners certified the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and approved the plans for the proposed Southern California Intermodal Gateway (SCIG) railyard project. This landmark project, whose $500 million cost would come entirely from a private investment by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF), is a good project on both economic and environmental grounds.

Economically, it is critical to the competitiveness of both the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports, and that is important because it would help ensure that the tens of thousands of jobs supported by the cargo industry remain in this region. Environmentally, this project reduces air pollutants associated with cargo handling by taking more than one million trucks per year off the region’s freeways. It also represents another step forward in our efforts to convert cargo movement in the region to zero-emissions technologies.

As the Los Angeles City Council prepares to hear appeals to the EIR, it’s important to understand that extraordinary environmental measures have been adopted to make certain this is the cleanest rail project in our nation’s history. As a Harbor area resident and former longshore leader, I would not have voted for this project had I not been convinced that it would be just that. Our health is too important to settle for less, but I am troubled by misconceptions floating around the project.

Apparently overlooked by some critics, the Port has imposed conditions that would require the SCIG project to use zero-emission trucks for deliveries of containers to the facility as soon as they are technically and commercially feasible. We realize there are many challenges to putting zero-emissions technologies into real-world service. None of the systems we have identified are ready to take to the field yet but we are getting closer. We have already tested an electric truck which we think can make the required number of trips on a single battery charge.

Our proposed lease with BNSF for the SCIG facility makes it a condition of approval of the facility that BNSF commit millions of dollars of its own money toward testing and demonstration programs to develop this technology as soon as is technically possible. Once there are 10 to 20 zero-emission trucks in testing, we’ve required port staff to report back in public meetings of the Boards of Harbor Commissioners of the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach at two-year intervals, at which time we will evaluate the results of those tests and decide if enough testing has been completed to require that they be put into operation.

Once we make that determination, the proposed lease imposes a requirement that BNSF must implement new zero-emission technologies using an expeditious ramp-up schedule, also to be set by the Boards, so that they can be put into operation as soon as possible. Our goal is for all trucks making deliveries to the SCIG have zero emissions by 2020. Make no mistake, this condition specifically gives the Harbor Commissions of the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach — not BNSF — the authority to determine that a particular technology is technically, operationally, and commercially feasible and therefore must be incorporated into SCIG’s operation. Separately, the EIR further requires BNSF to implement other emission reduction technologies as they become technically, operationally, and commercially feasible.

In practice, this means that zero-emission trucks will likely be moving containers to and from SCIG at some point in the near future. Zero-emission trucks are by far the most promising of the various zero-emission technologies that have been proposed in recent years, and the Port of Los Angeles has been a leader in promoting their development and testing. We are committed to a methodical testing and evaluation process in order to ensure that the industry gets something that actually works.

In response to concerns about businesses that would be displaced from the SCIG site, the Harbor Commission takes the potential for job loss seriously. We and our staff are committed to minimizing disruptions to the vital services those businesses, many of which are long-time port tenants, provide. Our permit with the railroad provides a 12.5 million dollar contribution by the Port of Los Angeles to assist in work the railroad must do to ready the site.

What this means is that the Port of Los Angeles, after listening to the community and the technical experts, has made sure that the SCIG project includes not only all the environmental protections and community safeguards that we can reasonably impose now, but also commitments to new, even cleaner technologies as soon as they are shown to be feasible. I, for one, am proud of our role in bringing this project forward. I urge the City Council to approve this project. It will be approving a breakthrough in cleaning up railroad operations and the goods movement industry, preserving jobs and ensuring a brighter future for the Los Angeles region.