May 13, 2009

Port’s Diesel Pollution Stirs West Oakland Protest

By Kwan Booth (article) and Kim Komenich (photography, audio)
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Part One in a Series

West Oakland’s struggles over diesel pollution linked to high local rates of asthma and cancer brought a confrontational protest to a recent Port of Oakland meeting — the latest in a year-long clash between residents, port officials and the trucking industry.

Heads turned and presentations stopped mid sentence as approximately 50 community activists and union truck drivers stormed the meeting early on, equipped with protest signs, a bullhorn and calls for “good jobs, clean air.”

At issue is the proposed Comprehensive Truck Management Program, which would require new pollution controls for trucks serving the port.

Although the protesters said the plan wouldn’t be effective, many independent truckers said it would put them out of business due to added costs for pollution controls.

Emotions ran high, and one truck-company owner who attempted to speak was repeatedly shouted down by protesters.

West Oakland residents, such as long-time community activist Shirley Burnell, said their voices, and those of local children with asthma, have also been excluded from the discussion.

“West Oakland is the ones that’s being impacted by all of this,” Burnell said. “And they’re the people that are the least considered here.”

The proposal aims to lower diesel pollution 85 percent by 2020, in a community that has three times the exposure to diesel toxins — which greatly increases risk of asthma, cancer and other health problems — as the rest of Oakland.

A 2008 study by the California Air Resources Board found an annual rate among local children and adults of 290 local cases of asthma and other respiratory problems, and 18 premature death, as well as a lifetime potential cancer risk for residents of West Oakland — whose homes are bordered by the Port of Oakland, a rail yard, and three major freeways — of about 1,200 excess cancers per million people.

The study concluded that diesel trucks entering the port contributed 71 percent of the area’s toxins.

The proposed plan would require older trucks to be fitted with more effective air filters, at a cost to truck owners of up to $20,000.

Independent drivers, who say they are already burdened with high equipment, maintenance and trucking fees, feel they shouldn’t have to carry this added cost.

“I’m an independent truck driver, who’s been suffering the consequences of this dirty business, this broken, broken trucking business,” said Lorenzo Fernandez, who owns and operates his own truck — and who doesn’t think the port’s proposal is going to work.

“The bottom line is that this plan is going to continue killing kids with asthma,” he said.

Jabari Herbert, a truck-facility operator serving the port, blamed the shipping companies for most of the pollution, and said many truckers weren’t aware of new regulations.

Recently the Port of Oakland reinstated $5 million to assist in the retrofits, although several truckers claimed to have not been notified of the funding, or countered that it is still an insufficient amount.

Delphine Provost of the Port of Oakland said that another $5 million has been promised by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, and is currently being dispersed.

The port’s final vote on the truck-management proposal is upcoming on June 2.

“The Bay Area Toxic Tour: West Oakland & The Port of Oakland” is produced and published by Newsdesk.org, and funded by individual donors using the SPOT.US crowdsourcing service.

2 thoughts on “Port’s Diesel Pollution Stirs West Oakland Protest

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