Port Adopts Clean-Air Compromise

By Erica C. Barnett January 7, 2011

One month after thwarting Seattle Port Commission member Rob Holland's attempt to clean up the Port’s truck fleet, whose emissions impact residents of the Georgetown and South Park neighborhoods, commissioner Gael Tarleton came back this week with a more vaguely worded resolution on the Port's environmental goals.

Holland wanted to impose specific pollution controls on trucks in the Georgetown and South Park neighborhoods. Instead, Tarleton's will direct Port staff to come up with policies that address Port pollution generally, rather than focusing on trucks.

Tarleton's resolution directs Port staff to come up with standards intended to reduce Port-produced emissions by 2015, two years earlier than federal regulations require. However, the resolution only says that the Port "aspires" to meet that deadline; it is not required to do so.

"I have been very focused on how we accelerate the clean air strategy," Tarleton told PubliCola. "Trucks are part of it, but it's a much broader agenda. ... I knew that the clean truck strategy was going to [cost the Port] too much money, and it wasn't going to target the main goal, which is getting cleaner air."

Holland’s resolution would have focused on truck emissions, which primarily impact the Georgetown and South Park neighborhoods—communities Holland says are endangered by poisonous diesel particulates every day, whether or not those particulates make up a large percentage of the Port's overall pollution. He would have required the Port to come up with a timeline for bringing 100 percent of the Port’s trucks into compliance with EPA standards for diesel emissions; create measures to enforce emission standards that would allow the Port to directly monitor compliance, gather and analyze data, and keep non-compliant trucks and trucking companies out of Port terminals; and identify stable funding to buy and maintain trucks that meet EPA standards.

Although Holland ultimately voted for Tarleton's resolution (which is not yet online), calling it "a good framework... for staff to come back with recommendations" at this week's meeting, he told PubliCola he would continue to push for regulations that protect South End neighborhoods specifically, and to ask for a study of emissions and particulate pollution in Georgetown and South Park.

"[With pollution] being concentrated in the neighborhoods like it is, I was trying to find a way, in a shorter timeline, to see how we could provide that community some relief," Holland says. "I don't disagree with some of the things that[Tarleton has] suggested, particularly from the alternative fuel side … which is why I was ultimately able to support it, but again, my focus is going to be relief for that community. ... Aspirational goals are wonderful, but at the end of the day, governnment has to perform on the behalf of the public."

Although this week's vote was unanimous, some commissioners expressed concerns that even aspiring to clean up the Port by 2015 instead of 2017 would hurt the trucking and business community.

"As someone who runs a business, I can tell you that one of the worst things you have to deal with is the uncertainty of government regulations," said commissioner Bill Bryant. "A number of independent contractors have just made investment decisions based on the fact that they were going to have to meet a standard by 2017, and now, within weeks, we're moving it to 2015? [That] causes me some angst."

The Port plans to do an assessment of its emissions in July, and to complete its emissions inventory by the end of the year.
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