For lawmaker Jenny Oropeza, the diesel soot that often cloaks the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach is not an abstract phenomenon. Oropeza recently recovered from liver cancer, which she is convinced was in part caused by the pollution emanating from port operations.
So it's no surprise that the powerful Democratic Assemblywoman from Long Beach has made cleaning up the diesel emissions at the ports a top priority. Last year, as chair of the Assembly Transportation Committee, she introduced a bill giving local air pollution control districts more power to police diesel emissions at ports, airports and rail yards throughout the state.
Oropeza's bill, AB 1101, which passed the state Assembly last month, is the most significant piece of environmental legislation to progress in this year's legislative session. And it has prompted opposition from a broad coalition of trade-related businesses and organizations that has labeled it a "job killer."
"AB 1101 will be tremendously costly to local (air pollution control) districts and regulated facilities," according to a memo to the Legislature from the California Trade Coalition, which consists of business groups, shipping and rail companies and other diesel operators.
The coalition also has its eye on a number of other environmental bills that could emerge later in the legislative session, including one that would impose a $30 fee on all containers moving through the state's ports. Also raising hackles in the business community are a trio of bills aimed at identifying chemicals in the environment and the human body.
But all this legislation is now playing second fiddle to the main focus in Sacramento: negotiations over a massive infrastructure bond that could go on the November ballot.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed $68 billion in bonds and $154 billion in funds from other local, state and federal sources to upgrade and expand the state's long-neglected infrastructure. Legislative leaders have come up with their own, somewhat more modest proposals with more of a focus on housing.
The California Trade Coalition is concerned that amidst all the hoopla over the bond measure, other legislation could slip through that coalition members believe could harm the state's trade economy. And right now, Oropeza's bill is at the top of that list, though that could change as other bills are introduced later in the session.
Besides the cost burden, these business interests say Oropeza's bill would splinter regulatory control over diesel emissions, which is now handled primary by the state Air Resources Board. Instead of one set of regulations covering the entire state, each air pollution control district would be free to draw up its own regulations, something that the coalition says would make it much harder for diesel operators to comply with.
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