Support for LAist comes from
Made of L.A.
Stay Connected

Share This

Climate and Environment

It’s Not Just Cars And Trucks: Concerns Rise On How Ships And Ports Are Damaging LA’s Air Quality

A young person with long black hair speaks at podium with a sign that reads "California Air Resources Board rule out ship pollution now!" A man stands with a sign nearby that reads "Dirty ships, Dirty lungs."
Jan Victor Andasan, an activist with East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, speaks at a port rally while Jesse Marquez, founder of environmental justice group Coalition For A Safe Environment, stands with a sign.
(Erin Stone
Support your source for local news!
The local news you read here every day is crafted for you, but right now, we need your help to keep it going. In these uncertain times, your support is even more important. Today, put a dollar value on the trustworthy reporting you rely on all year long. We can't hold those in power accountable and uplift voices from the community without your partnership. Thank you.

Cargo ships idling and other industry activities at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach spew more smog-forming and planet-heating pollution in one day than the 6 million cars on Southern California roads, according to the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which regulates air pollution in the Southland.

That’s why environmental justice activists held a rally Wednesday outside the Port of Los Angeles to call on federal, state and local leaders to more quickly clean up the ports and implement a rule that would help lower pollution from idling cargo ships.

A new “at-berth” rule, which is implemented by the California Air Resources Board, or CARB, the state’s air agency, was supposed to go into effect this year, but has been delayed due to bureaucratic holdups and pushback from the industry.

The original rule was enacted in 2007 and helped lower pollution from certain ocean-going vessels by 80 percent, according to CARB. However, greenhouse gas emissions have only gone up, rising more than 20% at both the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach since 2005, according to port data.

Support for LAist comes from

Policies to improve health and air pollution

Activists are calling on the state to completely phase out the dirtiest ships by 2028 and develop a new regulation requiring all ships to be zero emissions by 2040.

“The delay in implementing these regulations is putting the health and lives of millions of Californians at risk,” said Marisa Garcia, who grew up beside freeways in southeast L.A. and is now an activist with nonprofit Move LA.

She said the technology exists to dramatically reduce health and planet-harming pollution at the ports, while creating good jobs for locals. She pointed to existing technologies such as battery storage, wind-assisted propulsion, and green hydrogen fuel cells.

A woman wearing a black suit with dark hair and light brown skin speaks at a podium with a sign reading "California Air Resources Board rule out ship pollution now!"
Marisa Garcia speaks at a rally at the Port of Los Angeles on Wednesday, May 17, 2023.
(Erin Stone

Pollution from ocean-going ships and diesel trucks has led to port communities experiencing the highest levels of diesel pollution in California, according to state data.

Research has supported community members’ experiences of some of the highest rates of cancer, asthma and other health issues in the state. People who live in largely working-class Latino communities such as San Pedro, Wilmington, Carson, and West Long Beach have an average life expectancy up to eight years shorter than the average life expectancy in L.A. County while they're exposed to higher levels of air pollution.

Jan Victor Andasan grew up in west Long Beach and is now an activist with the group East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice. Their family moved from the Philippines to Long Beach nearly 30 years ago, when Andasan was a child.

“A year after living in West Long Beach, I would develop asthma,” Andasan said. “And that same year my brother would be born and he would be born breathing through a nebulizer.”

Support for LAist comes from
Ocean vessels spew outsize amounts of pollution

Ricardo Pulido of Carson has been part of the environmental justice movement at the ports since the early 2000s and is board chair of one of the earliest environmental justice groups in the area, the Coalition For A Safe Environment.

He lost his daughter to a neurological disorder he believes is related to the air pollution they lived with.

“The doctors all say it could be genes, it could be hereditary, but then I started looking deeper,” Pulido said. “It could be charged by the air, but nobody wanted to actually say it out loud at that time.”

Pulido is now partnering with USC to study the relationship between air pollution and neurological issues.

A man with medium-tone skin wearing sunglasses and a tan button-up shirt smiles for the camera beneath the shade of a tree on a sunny day.
Ricardo Pulido has been advocating for environmental justice in port communities since the early 2000s. He lost his daughter to health issues he thinks are related to air pollution.
(Erin Stone

New federal funding expected to be a big help

Martha Guzman, the Southwest region’s administrator for the federal Environmental Protection Agency, also attended the rally. The at-berth rule is currently awaiting approval from the agency, which is partially why it has not yet been implemented. She said after a public hearing on June 1, the process to roll out the at-berth policy will move more quickly.

“There's no doubt that [the ports] are an important emission source to be addressing,” Guzman said. “And there's no doubt that there's a federal role in that.”

She said $4 billion federal dollars from the Inflation Reduction Act allocated specifically for goods movement will help implement technologies needed to move more quickly to lower emissions at the ports.

“We've requested now for the public to tell us, ‘What are those investment needs?’” Guzman said. “We're going to be meeting with all stakeholders, the ship owners are a big part of this, and finding solutions in the heavy duty sector across the board — the locomotives, the trucks — is incredibly important to reducing emissions and so we're very much looking forward to having seen those investments take place here in communities like here in L.A.”

A wide image. To the left, a person with brown skin tone holds an oversized "scroll" with various items on it. To the right are two other people with brown skin tone, one with long hair and another with shorter hair speaking with a microphone at a podium.
Activists provide a scroll of demands to Martha Guzman, the EPA administrator for the Southwest Region.
(Erin Stone
Climate Emergency Questions
Fires. Mudslides. Heat waves. What questions do you need answered as you prepare for the effects of the climate emergency?

Most Read