Oakland air quality held hostage to state budget

I might’ve overreacted yesterday in blogging about Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s vow not to sign any more bills until the Legislature sends him a budget he likes – not in calling it a stunt, which I still believe it is, but in evaluating its seriousness.

As the Sacramento Bee puts it so succinctly today:

Schwarzenegger’s no-signature threat likely will have little practical effect because lawmakers know there are ways to skirt his idle pen.

The governor said he will veto bills before they become law after 12 days without his signature. But legislators can simply withhold bills from the governor until Aug. 18, the start of a six-week window in which the 12-day rule does not apply. That likely buys lawmakers cover from a veto until Sept. 30.

Still, I think I’ll start periodically noting some of the bills potentially important to the Bay Area that the governor is trying to hold hostage.

Like, for example, the Clean Ports Investment Act, SB 974 by state Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, which would collect up to $30 per shipping container processed at California’s three big ports – Oakland, Long Beach, and Los Angeles – and put that money into infrastructure improvement projects and air quality mitigation measures.

From a Planning and Conservation League news release:

Operations at the ports of Long Beach, Los Angeles and Oakland along with related freight transport generate 30% of the statewide emissions of nitrogen oxide (a smog-forming pollutant) and 75% of all diesel particulate matter pollution. These pollutants contribute to increased rates of asthma, respiratory disease, and premature death. In fact, diesel pollution is the worst toxic air contaminant in California, responsible for 70% of the state’s air pollution-related cancer risk.

Approximately 3,700 deaths and 360,000 sick days in California each year are directly linked to toxic emissions from goods movement, and the California Air Resources Board estimates that over the next 14 years, the state will spend an additional $200 billion in health care costs directly related to goods movement pollution. SB 974 will provide a steady funding stream that is expected to generate nearly $500 million dollars annually that will be split evenly between air quality projects and infrastructure improvements.

The Assembly passed this bill July 15 on a 46-24 vote, and the state Senate passed it this past Tuesday on a 22-10 vote.

A Lowenthal aide tells me the bill, although passed Tuesday, hadn’t yet been sent to the governor’s desk before the governor aired his ultimatum Wednesday, so it’s not on the 12-day clock described by the Bee; now it’ll be held at the Senate desk along with everything else Schwarzenegger is refusing to sign.

The California Air Resources Board issued a report in March which found West Oakland residents are at significantly higher risk of developing cancer due to diesel particulate emissions from the Port of Oakland.

But hey, breathe easy, West Oakland – the governor has your back.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.