Environmentalists accuse Los Angeles of ‘environmental racism’

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Environmentalists are claiming in court that a massive railyard expansion at the port of Los Angeles represents “environmental racism,” arguing that the project is in violation California air quality rules as well as state and federal civil rights laws.

The Los Angeles City Council approved the rail company BNSF’s $500 million project, the Southern California International Gateway (SCIG), which is located four miles from the ports in San Pedro, Calif.

BNSF claims that the project will cut the distance trucks have to travel between the cargo ships and the rail lines. Currently trucks must travel 24 miles on the constantly congested 710 Freeway.

The rail project will be built in Wilmington, a suburb located near the ports. The Natural Resources Defense Council and other environmental groups, however, claim that the project targets LA minority communities.

“The SCIG project typifies environmental racism,” David Pettit, director of the NRDC’s Southern California air program and urban program, said in a statement. “This project can be built away from where people live and children go to school, but the city of Los Angeles wants to put it in a low-income minority neighborhood because they think they can get away with it.”

According to the environmentalists, 87 percent of Wilmington’s 51,000 residents are blue collar and Latino. The BNSF project will also add 1 million truck and train trips through local neighborhoods which will increase cancer and asthma rates through increased chronic air pollution.

“This unnecessary project is not only dangerous to the health of the local working class, working poor communities of color but to the entire region,” said Angelo Logan, executive director for East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice.

However, this project has environmentalists at odds with labor union leaders who see the project as a source of good jobs for their members.

“SCIG will create thousands of good construction jobs and thousands of permanent jobs at a time when unemployment still remains high,” said Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the LA County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO. “We also applaud BNSF for being a leader in creating the nation’s greenest intermodal facility, significantly improving air quality and decreasing health risks in our communities.”

BNSF has also said it would strive to be environmentally friendly and incorporate the NRDC’s suggestions. Only trucks made after 2010 will be allowed to travel through Wilmington and by 2026, 90 percent of the BNSF truck fleet will run on natural gas or other low emissions fuels.

“SCIG will be the greenest intermodal facility in the United States and will set the standard for future projects,” said LA City Councilman Joe Buscaino, who added that BNSF will have spent $100 million on green technology by the time the project is completed.

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