Our twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are at a critical juncture in their history as our region's principal economic engines. They are on pace to record their second straight year of declines in overall international trade something that has not happened in 30 years. At the same time, the national economy continues to slow, and unemployment in Los Angeles now exceeds 7 percent.
How our two ports respond both to global competitive pressures to expand and to local community pressures to cut pollution will profoundly affect the vitality of our region's economy and environmental health for decades to come. With a number of port modernization projects still at a standstill, it's time for a reality check on the consequences of our ports not being allowed to modernize and expand in a way that cuts pollution.
Two things are certain: First, green growth at our ports will create hundreds of thousands of high-wage jobs and contribute billions of dollars to our local economy. Second, green growth will ensure cleaner, more environmentally friendly facilities than the current sites.
The bottom line comes down to jobs. And "green growth" means lots of them. Already supporting 500,000 jobs, the two ports are the centerpiece of Southern California's $350 billion trade and logistics sector. Most of these jobs are high-wage jobs with built-in career ladders for workers and job seekers at all education and skill levels.
Thousands of new jobs will be created almost immediately during the construction of these port modernization projects. This is especially significant as our local economy braces for what might be a protracted economic slowdown. Still, there are some "no growth" proponents who would rather stop all port-related development even if it means forfeiting these much needed jobs, and in doing so sacrifice the quality of life in many of our most economically depressed communities.
Longer term, "green growth" will create close to 1 million new jobs over 20 years for working families in communities across Southern California. The status quo will only result in a slow loss of jobs as shippers continue to divert cargo away from Los Angeles and Long Beach to other ports along the West Coast, Mexico and Canada.
"Green growth" also means an improved environment, with less traffic congestion and cleaner operations. Without "green growth" projects, truck congestion will only worsen, continue to cause roadway delays, increase safety risks to commuters, and add to the amount of toxic emissions spewed from idling trucks and commercial vehicles.
Even so, categorical opposition to any growth at the ports has been used as a strategic tool to endlessly delay or block even the most environmentally friendly projects. Some who challenge these port modernization projects falsely warn that new projects inevitably portend greater air pollution and congestion in surrounding neighborhoods. However, this could not be further from the truth. "Green growth" projects are about using new technologies to increase efficiency, ease congestion, cut noise and reduce air pollution in neighboring communities.
Make no mistake; blocking port projects is not a clean solution. Whether it's near- or on-dock rail or the electrification of cargo handling equipment, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have made it their No. 1 priority to build some of the nation's greenest development projects, all of which will substantially improve air quality, reduce pollution-related illnesses and ensure cleaner, more environmentally friendly facilities than we have now.
The Middle Harbor Redevelopment Project at the Port of Long Beach is one of many promising green growth projects. This project will renovate two aging and environmentally substandard container cargo terminals and provide 1,000 immediate construction jobs and 14,000 new, permanent goods-movement jobs throughout Southern California. The upgraded facility will also cut air pollution by 50 percent or more and greatly minimize environmental impacts of the current terminal operations. Yet, even with the strong air pollution and traffic mitigation measures proposed, progress on the Middle Harbor Redevelopment Project, and many others like it, is uncertain in such a highly charged and contentious atmosphere where there is little trust on both sides.
It's time for a reality check. In today's tough economic times, "green growth" is the only way to create jobs and grow the economy through our ports while protecting the environment. The price of not getting it right is just too great.
Bill Allen is president and chief executive of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.
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