air pollution

Protesters attack Port of Seattle salaries, seek better conditions for workers, less air pollution

Protesters attacked air pollution, working conditions and high salaries for port executives

Against the backdrop of a towering asthma-medicine inhaler, about 250 protesters demonstrated downtown on Thursday*, saying the Port of Seattle should do a better job of cleaning up air pollution, taking care of its low-level employees and reining in the six-figure salaries of its executives.

The protest outside a meeting of the American Association of Port Authorities targeted in particular Port of Seattle CEO Tay Yoshitani’s 9 percent pay raise earlier this year that gave him a salary more than twice that of Gov. Chris Gregoire – as state employees saw their paychecks dip 3 percent. Yoshitani makes $366,825 a year.

One protester carried a sign saying “Tay’s pay is not OK.” Others carried Yoshitani’s visage emblazoned with “Overpaid.” Protesters included labor activists, environmentalists, port workers and others.

“He got a 9 percent raise!” state Rep. Zack Hudgins told the demonstrators. “Did anyone here get a 9 percent raise?”

Hudgins, D-Seattle, said he will file legislation that would:

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Activists, truckers, religious leaders call for Port of Seattle to treat truck drivers better

Singing the African-American spiritual “Wade in the Water,” activists and religious leaders and truck drivers tried Wednesday to breach security at a downtown conference of seaport authorities to appeal to the Port of Seattle to improve working conditions and pay for drivers.

In the same hotel where hundreds of delegates to the World Trade Organization took refuge from tear gas in 1999, the activists sought to highlight their call for drivers to be hired as employees instead of scraping by as independent contractors. The drivers say they are on some days working for less than minimum wage, waiting for up to six hours to get a load that might pay them $40 or $50. Because they are independent contractors, the drivers also are responsible for sometimes-expensive maintenance and repairs.

Several waves of protesters, about 30 in all, were turned back in front of a phalanx of Port of Seattle police officers on the fourth floor of the Westin. “If you are not credentialed, you need to head right down that escalator!” Westin General Manager Elizabeth James instructed the last wave, which broke into song as the protesters moved slowly toward the exit.

The protesters are planning a larger demonstration outside the Westin Thursday at noon.

Michael Ramos, executive director of the Church Council of Greater Seattle and a board member of the activist group Puget Sound Sage, said he was trying Wednesday to deliver a letter from several local and national religious leaders calling for better treatment of the drivers. Several workers also bore their own letter, hoping to deliver it to Port of Seattle executives at the conference.

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Port of Seattle won't speed up cleanup of trucks' air pollution

The Port of Seattle got a good look this week at who really likes the agency’s multi-faceted plans to reduce port-related air pollution:  Trucking companies, shipping companies, the national ports lobby, the longshoremen’s union and a regional planning agency.

And the port’s elected governing commission also heard who thinks the port is unforgivably laggardly in reducing pollution, especially from diesel-burning trucks that haul cargo out of the port into neighborhoods that register the highest rate of childhood hospitalizations for asthma in King County. Those critics include environmentalists, the Georgetown Community Council*, the Church Council of Greater Seattle, the Teamsters and three other unions.

“The Port of Seattle has taken timid first steps,” Bang Nguyen of the Community Coalition for Environmental Justice told the Port Commission on Tuesday. “Act now to protect children.”

But the port commissioners did not act. Nguyen and other activists urged the commission to accelerate plans to require that trucks picking up cargo meet the latest federal air-pollution regulations for diesel-fired vehicles.  Instead, the commission will wait a year for recommendations from its staff.

Jim Tutton, vice president of the Washington Trucking Association, said the port’s current plan to require 80 percent of the trucks to have the latest pollution-control systems by Dec. 31, 2015, is good enough.  All the trucks must be compliant by Dec. 31, 2017.

“We greatly appreciate the way the Port of Seattle’s clean truck program has been instituted,” Tutton said. “The industry has been able to adopt the new requirements in a reasonable manner, allowing companies (and) their drivers to continue serving their customers without a disruption… Our compliments to the port.”

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Social media campaign gets new eyes on our work

On June 13th, InvestigateWest launched its first major social media campaign associated with a story. The story, “Breathing Uneasy – The Air Pollution Crisis in South Seattle” was a joint effort by IW’s Robert McClure and Jenny Cunningham of KCTS-9. IW’s objective was to get the story to readers and viewers through social media channels, in addition to publication and broadcast with media partners, which also included Crosscut.com. Here’s a rundown of what we learned.

Much like a more traditional advertising campaign, the effectiveness of a social media campaign is measured by the extent to which organization goals are met.

However, because the campaign for “BreathingUneasy” was not intended to sell a product or gain customers, we look at success a little differently than does traditional business. When evaluating the success of a story campaign, we exchange measures such as unit sales and new customers for metrics like website traffic, connections/followers on social networks, responses to our messages and content, and whether the audience shares the content within their network. An added dimension is whether the report motivates civic participation.

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Robert McClure's picture

Should Port of Seattle hasten air-pollution cleanup?

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..."

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InvestigateWest and KCTS 9 co-produce "Breathing Uneasy," a look at the air pollution crisis in South Seattle

“Breathing Uneasy” is the result of a collaboration between InvestigateWest and KCTS 9. Veteran environmental reporters Robert McClure of InvestigateWest and Jenny Cunningham of KCTS 9 spent six months examining the impact of truck traffic on the communities that border the Port of Seattle, an area that new studies say has some of the worst air in the state. Their stories detail how toxic emissions from diesel trucks endanger residents of some of Seattle’s poorest communities, but also contain lessons and implications for any area dealing with major roadway traffic near schools and residential neighborhoods.

In addition, McClure and Cunningham examine how Port of Seattle Chief Executive Officer Tay Yoshitani helped oppose changes in legislation that would have made trucks cleaner, despite his promise to make Seattle the “cleanest, greenest, most energy-efficient port in the U.S.”

A special report on air pollution, co-produced by InvestigateWest and KCTS 9,  will air on KCTS Connects Friday, June 17 at 7 p.m. Click here to view the video.

To read the stories on Crosscut, click here.  And you can listen to Robert McClure discuss the issue with Ross Reynolds on The Conversation during the noon hour Tuesday, June 14 on KUOW 94.9 FM.

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Why do environmental regulators soft-pedal truly disturbing findings?

rm iwest mugIt's not like we needed another study to tell us that air pollution levels in some places are high enough to make people sick and even kill them. But the way New Jersey environmental regulators handled the public release of  this new study is noteworthy because it's a classic case of government soft-pedaling some truly disturbing news.

African dust bringing toxic chemicals to U.S., Caribbean; is it killing corals? Hurting people?

It's one of those increasingly frequent stories demonstrating that ecologically, the whole globe is connected -- and why that's not always a good thing:

Pesticides, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and polychlorinated biphenyls are among the contaminants hitching an airborne ride to the United States and other parts of the Western Hemisphere on dust storms blowing out of West Africa. That's according to new research presented at the just-completed annual meeting of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.

[caption id="attachment_6259" align="alignleft" width="197" caption="This image from Aug. 5, 2005 shows African dust spreading west, north and south as the green and yellow. Courtesy Dr. Douglas Westphal, Navy Research Lab, Monterey, CA"]This image from Aug. 5, 2005 shows African dust spreading west, north and south as the green and yellow. Courtesy Dr. Douglas Westphal, Navy Research Lab, Monterey, CA[/caption]

The findings are worrisome because some of the chemicals carried on the trade winds originating in Africa are persistent in the environment, they bioaccumulate, and they are known to be toxic at low concentrations, said U.S. Geological Survey researcher Ginger Garrison, who presented the findings at the SETAC conference in New Orleans.

It's been known for some time now that dust storms blowing off North Africa make their way across the Atlantic and deposit fine particles of dust. I covered that in my Florida days, the Sunshine State being the U.S. region getting the highest concentrations of the superfine dust.

The dust travels as far west as the Rockies and as far north as New England, and tongues of it have reached out across Central America into the Pacific.