The annual rush to file bills for the current legislative session contained a record number related to West Coast port operations, mostly aimed at limiting pervasive congestion and pollution problems.
At least 20 bills were submitted to the Assembly and the Senate before last month's filing deadline, an effort led by state Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, who accounted for five pieces of legislation.
While many of the proposals have the backing of environmental groups, they are expected to face stiff lobbying opposition from the vessel lines and retailers because of the anticipated added costs.
Four of the five Lowenthal measures are aimed at leveling off pollution levels and come as a response to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's veto of last year's legislation calling for no net increase in emissions. Schwarzenegger said that the measure, also proposed by Lowenthal, lacked specific goals and incentive programs to reduce pollution.
The fifth Lowenthal bill would raise an estimated $3 billion over 10 years from cargo owners using the L.A.-Long Beach complex to pay for port security, pollution mitigation and rail infrastructure improvements to ease truck traffic in and around the ports.
Under the proposal, terminal operators would be charged $30 per 20-foot-equivalent container unit moving through the L.A. and Long Beach ports.
The money generated from the fees would be split evenly among the ports for security; the South Coast Air Quality Management District for pollution mitigation; and the California Transportation Commission for rail infrastructure improvements.
"There is no progress," said Lowenthal. "The pollution continues to grow at a faster rate than the measures to control pollution."
A bill proposed by Assemblywoman Betty Karnette, D-Long Beach, would levy an additional $10 per container to fund yet-to-be-created programs by the California Office of Homeland Security, raising an estimated $130 million annually.
"The intent of the measure is to bridge the gap between money needed for port security and money not coming from the federal government for whatever reason," said Karnette.
She said the federal government appropriated substantially less money for ports than it has for airports, and that California's 10 percent allocation of homeland security funds fails to account for the fact that half the nation's imports move through the state.
The proposals face certain opposition from cargo owners and vessel lines, which claim many of the proposed rules are beyond the state's ability to enforce.
"There is no way California can put these charges on interstate commerce without running afoul of the Constitution of the United States," said Robin Lanier, executive director of the Waterfront Coalition, a trade group representing retailers. "(Besides), security is going to be funded privately if it's not funded by the federal government, and the state should stay out of it."
Last year, the California Chamber of Commerce opposed 23 pollution mitigation bills it deemed to be "job killers." Of the 23, 10 passed the legislature, only to be vetoed by Schwarzenegger, said Kearsten Shepherd, spokeswoman for the chamber.
Among the bills the governor scrapped was AB 2024 Lowenthal's no-net-increase in pollution measure. His newer versions of the legislation would require the two local ports to hold hearings and devise a plan by Jan. 1, 2008 to roll back port emissions to 2001 levels.
To date, that bill is the only one that chamber lobbyists have reviewed. They said they will oppose it again.
Lowenthal knows he also faces an uphill battle on any money-generating measures. "Any time you introduce a fee, even if it's targeted for specific purposes, it's going to be difficult (to pass)," he said. "But if we want to have a world-class goods movement system that does not pollute, we're going to have to pay for it."
Attempting to balance the opposition will be community groups and environmentalists, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council.
"It's extremely important that ship companies are made responsible for off-setting the pollution and health problems that they create," said Julie Masters, a project attorney at the NRDC.
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