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CA Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)

Business Lobbyists Ask Governor to Set Aside Worker Protections, Clean Air Rules

Image by Bari Bookout via Flickr

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Lots of factors have contributed to a months-long backup of freight in the ports of L.A. and Long Beach - and indeed throughout the world. Now business lobbyists are asking Governor Newsom to loosen and suspend environmental and labor regulations they don't like "until the supply chain has normalized."

But there is little evidence these regulations are contributing factors. What are factors: People stuck at home during COVID engaging in shopping therapy;  an unprecedented expansion of goods movement through the Southern California ports; labor shortages in every sector, with their own contributing factors.

The backup is definitely a nightmare for many. The chaos of ships awaiting their turn to drop off containers full of goods seems to have contributed to the oil spill in Huntington Beach last month; idling ships has led to increased emissions; sailors who signed on to work the merchant ships have been stuck at sea for far longer than they thought.

Legislators, Governor Newsom, and even President Biden have been weighing in to help move cargo through, but some of their efforts - allowing the ports to temporarily work 24-7 - have caused other problems down the line. For example, residents in nearby cities have been inundated with freight containers that the ports can't seem to find space to store, and a car was crushed by a falling freight container (no one seemed to be inside it at the time). For another example, warehouses are jammed and pollution from their activities is increasing. For another example, take a drive on any state highway and witness the solid line of trucks trailing into the distance.

Now business lobbyists have decided they have the answer: the governor should declare a state of emergency and set aside recent laws protecting workers, communities, and the environment "until the supply chain has normalized."

For them, business interests trump all others. And while there's no question it's important to clear out this bottleneck, why put economics on a pedestal above the safety and health of the residents of this state?

But that's what these lobbyists - from California Business Roundtable, California Retailers Association, California Manufacturers & Technology Association, California Business Properties Association, California Trucking Association, Agricultural Council of California, Western Growers, and others, are asking for. Specifically, they're calling on Newsom to:

    1. Declare a State of Emergency at the ports and the associated transportation links to enable quick action to resolve bottlenecks as they arise;
    2. Suspend implementation of A.B. 701 [protections for warehouse workers] until the supply chain has normalized and goods movement has been restored;
    3. Suspend A.B. 5 [worker protections for truck drivers and contractors] and allow independent truckers to operate in and through California until the supply chain has normalized
    4. Provide flexibility on existing Air Resources and local port drayage truck regulations, and ensure upcoming deadlines on new regulations take into account delays in manufacturing and delivery of new trucks;
    5. Suspend implementation of the Indirect Source Rule recently promulgated by the South Coast Air Quality Management District until the supply chain has normalized;
    6. Suspend local and regional mandates that interfere or limit goods movement, including local prohibitions on unloading goods at stores after hours; and
    7. Direct already appropriated state resources to clean up homeless encampments in and around goods movement corridors; and
    8. Expedite the CEQA and permitting processes, including conditional use permits, for warehouses, rail line and other critical components of goods movement.

Nothing small! Just ... suspend every regulation they have been fighting against.

It's interesting to note that they squeezed in a little something about "cleaning up homeless encampments," a currently favorite do-nothing solution to a humanitarian crisis of far more epic proportions than a cargo backup at the ports.

It would be funny, if it weren't so serious.

But! say the lobbyists, "The suspension of these mandates will not undermine or diminish the state’s goals to reduce greenhouse gases and improve the environment in and around the ports."

They are basically trying to define the port backup - definitely an urgent problem - as a more serious crisis than the other, longer-term, existential crises California has been trying to solve with regulations they don't like. "If we do not immediately address the crisis in front of us, we will show the world that it is not possible to transition to cleaner technologies while allowing commerce and the economy to thrive," they write.

They're mad because business as usual is not possible, because California has decided it needs to protect its resources and its people. Yes, the cargo backup is a serious problem, and it needs to be addressed holistically, including its environmental impacts. But setting aside rules that protect the people and environment of the state won't help anything but these companies' bottom lines.

Although, oddly enough, Bloomberg says these companies are doing fine.

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