Newark kids choking on Port Authority's diesel exhaust | Editorial

By Star-Ledger Editorial Board
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on May 15, 2016

 

In the Ironbound district of Newark, where there are 200 trucks thundering through the streets leading in and out of the Port Newark-Elizabeth every single hour, the residents are collateral damage in the pursuit of commerce.

The physical toll is documented: One in four children have asthma, which is three times the state average. And the DEP reported elevated cancer risks attributable to emissions from port activity throughout Newark and Elizabeth and Bayonne, where diesel pollution can be 150 times higher than the level considered safe to breathe.

In short, the trucks and barges around the busiest container terminal in the East are poisoning children and ruining lives by spitting emissions have been linked to everything from heart disease to developmental defects, and the $8 billion agency that can reverse this trend is doing as little as possible.

The Port Authority had a chance to invest in a Truck Replacement Program that would refit or replace 6,300 of these poison-spewing diesel monsters built before 2007, but it reneged on a commitment to clean up its act in January.

When an identical program was implemented at the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles – subsidized by container fees and state grants - it reduced emissions by 80 percent. If it were adopted in Port Newark, the diesel emissions would drop by 90 percent.

The Port Authority knows this, but it invested a paltry $1.2 million in the program after getting sticker shock. It would cost $150 million to cover the program, which a large sum, but not for an agency that routinely spends billions on capital projects like raising the Bayonne Bridge - a $1.3 billion project that will bring in twice as much cargo and produce more truck pollution.

Gov. Christie himself likes to filch the PA's reserves for his own purposes, such as spending $1.8 billion on the Pulaski Skyway and $500 million to redesign Atlantic City Airport.

But they can't spend $150 million to replace the pre-2007 diesel fleet, because the health of children doesn't rank on their list of urgent priorities.

The PA noted in a statement that reduced emissions by 41 percent since 2006, but cannot quantify how much was through mitigation of ships, the port's biggest polluter; and it says it has invested $600 million in cleaner rail facilities, but 85 percent of what comes into the terminal leaves on trucks.

In Washington, Senators Cory Booker and Robert Menendez – noting the "environmental justice concern" of 3.5 million children living near major ports – sent a letter to the EPA Wednesday urging the feds to take "additional action" to reduce emissions from ports and the freight network.

And in Trenton, state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Elizabeth) will introduce a bill Monday that requires the PA to adopt the California emission standards for port vehicles, with upgrades funded by a "clean truck tariff."

These are good initiatives, but a kid in the Ironbound can't hold his breath forever. The Port Authority says they are committed to being "good environmental stewards to the communities" that surround Port Newark, but ample medical evidence proves that this steward is an indifferent failure.

Do you like this post?

Be the first to comment