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Clearing The Air On The Air Pollution Issue

Clearing The Air On The Air Pollution Issue

Picture of Ryan ZumMallen

Sadly, in the city of Long Beach and the surrounding South Bay region, the topic of air pollution is nothing new.

Asthma and lung disease rates are among the highest in the nation. It is simply an unavoidable consequence of living nearby the massive twin ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.

On the one hand, there is no denying that both harbors have made lengthy environmental strides in recent years, adopting new ideas and legislation that have improved their efficiency and will help conditions for years to come. Some examples are the adoption of the Clean Air Action Plan, strict emissions standards for trucks that operate at the harbor, increased use of on- or near-dock rail and more.

At the same time, though, officials at the ports have been planning massive infrastructure expansions that are designed to significantly increase - in some cases, double - the amount of cargo that can be handled at their facilities.

A ten-year, $750 million expansion of the port's Middle Harbor facility was approved by the Long Beach City Council in 2009 and a massive expansion of the nearby Intermodal Container Transfer Facility (ICTF) is currently being considered. Both moves aim to increase the amount of goods that can be brought into local ports and then trucked or shipped throughout the Southland and beyond. This means increased business and a healthier economy, but it could also mean an influx of ships, trucks and trains spewing pollutants into nearby communities.

I will seek to learn whether the recent-adopted environmental policies in the goods movement industry will be negated by massive expansions designed to drastically increase truck, ship and rail activity in the region.

It should be noted that both projects tout improved environmental efficiency. Supporters of the Middle Harbor project claim that it will reduce pollution by 50% once fully operational. Union Pacific - the railroad company that runs the ICTF - claims that their expansion will be 75% more efficient (though UP has openly refused to implement environmentally-friendly strategies unless their expansion is approved). But is a 50% improvement effective when the size of the project is doubled? These potential environmental benefits will be examined and thoroughly researched, as well.

This is a complex issue with many players and many sides. In an attempt to tell the story clearly, I will explore a few promising ideas to create interactive online components.

There is quite a bit more to this story, and some fascinating sub-plots beneath the surface as well. We can delve into those a little later, but for now I am simply excited to start and honored to be a part of this year's program.

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