Trade Off For Funds Not Worth Added Harm From Trucks

By Carlos Alvarez, EGP Staff Writer

COMMERCE – A bill recently signed by Gov. Jerry Brown will do little to alleviate health concerns over toxic vehicle emissions along some heavily-traveled truck routes in the region, and is instead raising concerns in cities along the I-710 corridor that there is not enough money in the legislation to alleviate the impact of changes to make truck emission rules less stringent.

Senate Bill 1, signed by the governor in late April, raises gas taxes and vehicle fees to generate funds to fix the state’s backlog of crumbling roads. The gas tax hike starts Nov. 1, while the vehicle registration fee increase takes force Jan. 1, 2018. The measures are expected to raise $5.2 billion over 10 years.

For cities like Commerce, however, a provision in the bill that exempts most diesel trucks on the road from future emissions reduction requirements for close to two decades is raising red flags.

The exemption was added to the bill at the last minute to gain the support of the trucking industry for the higher diesel fuel and registration fees, according to environmental groups who have slammed the legislation as not tough enough.

According to Commerce Director of Public Works & Development Services, Maryam Babaki, local residents will see minimal financial benefit from the signing of SB1, but will see a slowing of the movement to achieve zero emission trucks.

“This provision is one of the biggest drawbacks of SB1,” Babaki said, adding the policy change increases residents’ risk of health problems.

While the bill will result in much needed funds to repair state’s roads, Babaki told EGP it fails to provide relief to smaller populated industrial cities like Commerce. Large cities like Los Angeles will also see greater benefits.

The added pool of money is not worth the trade off to residents’ health, Babaki warned.

According to environmentalists, reducing or slowing emissions standards will affect residents who live near major truck routes, keeping their risk of cancer, heart problems, asthma and other lung diseases high.

The 710 freeway, a major goods movement corridor between the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and the rail yards in Commerce and points further east, has long been identified as a pollution hot spot in large part due to the fumes from diesel trucks.

According to the California Air Resources Board, diesel trucks account for 2 percent of vehicles, but emit 30 percent of key smog-forming nitrogen oxides. The Environmental Impact Report for the I-710 Corridor Project states that in 2013, 182,000 vehicles passed through the I-5, I-710 and I-60 corridor, of which 20,000 were trucks.

While local residents health concerns are not to be taken lightly, SB1 also fails to provide adequate funding to smaller populated cities to do road repairs or to mitigate the health consequences of the trucking rules because it uses a funding formula based on population. With about 13,000 residents, Commerce’s share of revenue will be small compared to cities like Los Angeles, even though the city is disproportionately impacted by traffic along the corridor.

“Cities like Commerce have the largest number of truck traveling miles,” Babaki said. “They have to pay for the maintenance and repair of these roads from their own budgets, while getting very small sums to do it.”

“It is a double whammy,” Babaki said.

Babaki compared SB1 to the distribution of transportation funds through Measure M, which also uses a population-based funding formula. Commerce contributes $16 million in taxes annually, but only receives $350,000 from Metro, according to Babaki.

“Small industrial cities get deprived of their fair share due to their small population,” Babaki said. “Anytime distribution is merely based on population, rather than number of miles, or share of contributed revenue, small cities like Commerce get shortchanged.”

Babaki said city officials have voiced their concerns to state legislators to no avail.

“The practice and the laws of distribution based on population have been very difficult to change.”

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July 27, 2017  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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