Should Port of Seattle hasten air-pollution cleanup?

Robert McClure's picture
Printer-friendly version

Our recent collaboration with KCTS Channel 9 on worrisome air pollution levels in south Seattle looked hard at the role played by the 1,800 to 2,000 truck trips that do business at the Port of Seattle on an average workday.

Today the Seattle Port Commission deals directly with the air-pollution controversy we covered.  Staff members are scheduled to brief the commission on the agency's air-pollution-reduction programs.

The background: the Port Commission failed on complicated but essentially 3-2 votes in December 2010 to speed up the air-pollution cleanup process and to support federal legislation giving ports more authority to regulate the trucks. Seattle City Council members Nick Licata and Mike O'Brien, along with state Rep. Dave Upthegrove, asked the commission to go the other way. Commissioner Gael Tarleton appears to have been the swing vote.*

But in January of this year the commission, on a motion by Tarleton, agreed 5-0 to ask its staff to look into what might be done to clean up port-related air pollution sooner, citing "an urgent need to address the public health risks of poor air quality caused by expanding container (ship) traffic, the continued strength of cruise ship visits, and the associated growth in port trucking..."

The commission directed port staffers to look at the pros and cons of moving up a deadline to require much-cleaner trucks at the port from Dec. 31, 2017 to "no later than 2015." (Does that mean Dec. 31, 2015, or Dec. 31, 2014? It makes a difference, whichever side of this debate you may be on.)

Going into the meeting, those nervous about trying to speed up this cleanup are publishing. One example is Port Commissioner Tom Albro's op-ed for Crosscut, in which he discusses lots of ways the port has worked to reduce air pollution. There's also a new post in the Georgetown blog that discusses the impact of the Teamsters trying to organize the drivers of the trucks is having on this conversation. (As Enrique Cerna explored on the KCTSConnects broadcast, this labor issue has been interwined with the air-pollution issue.  Need it be?) 

And for perspective, note that the up-and-coming port of Prince Rupert, Canada, is gunning for Seattle's business. You may also be interested in our piece on how Port CEO Tay Yoshitani, after promsing the "cleanest, greenest" port in the country, went the other way on this trucks issue. That story ran on Crosscut.com. Or watch the KCTS video by producer Jenny Cunningham and photographer/editor Greg Davis.

The port commission meets at 1 p.m. at the port's 2711 Alaskan Way offices. (This item is # 7on the agenda.)  We'll be there.

*Tarleton voted no on a measure sponsored by Commissioners Rob Holland and John Creighton to require use of only the cleanest trucks by 2013. Also voting no were Albro and Commission President Bill Bryant. The vote broke down the same way on the idea of supporting federal legislation giving ports more regulatory authority over trucks, except that Tarleton abstained. That made the vote 2-2-1, meaning the measure failed.

Byline: