Dateline: New York/New Jersey
August 4, 2011
What’s $33 million dollars?
If you’ve got it to spare, $33 million can fetch you a French castle or a luxury condo in one of Donald Trump’s New York high-rises. Or if you’re Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn you could purchase a famous Rembrandt painting for your personal art collection. And for one lucky lottery winner a couple weeks ago $33 million was the jackpot that changed their life forever.
But for the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, $33 million doesn’t amount to much. In fact, it’s the amount appropriated to their clean truck program, which to date has replaced 11 big rigs that carry containers full of consumer goods in and out of port terminals. That comes to $3 million a truck!
What’s more, out of $7 million dollars that came directly from the federal government through the Recovery Act, $5 million – that’s more than 70% of the funds – went to high paid consultants. And how much pollution was reduced? How many jobs were created? Next to nothing!
By comparison, the Port of Los Angeles’ investment of $42 million directly financed or encouraged the replacement of 8,000 trucks (or about $5,250 per truck). Then again, the nation’s largest port had the common sense to provide financial incentives to trucking companies in order for them to acquire and manage fleets of trucks. The Port Authority, by contrast, designed a loan scheme made to force individual low-income truck drivers into taking on an unreasonably large debt to purchase cleaner vehicles – a disastrous and frankly dumb idea that has already failed in Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle and Houston.
But this only according to very limited information provided by the Port Authority to Puget Sound Sage, a community-based organization and partner in the Coalition for Clean & Safe Ports that submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the agency asking for information related to the port’s Truck Replacement Program.
“For nine months I attempted get this information from the Port Authority only to have call after call go unreturned and never once receiving a single reason for their delay,” said David Mendoza a research analyst at Puget Sound Sage and expert on clean truck programs in port cities around the country. “Now I know why the bureaucrats at the Port Authority were so reluctant to divulge the truth – their results fell embarrassingly short of their environmental goals and they came with a jaw-dropping price tag.”
Two other information requests – one of from New York City Councilman Brad Lander and another from the Eastern Environmental Law Center – have yet to result in any substantive information about the program.
“It’s an injustice that the Port Authority is using delay tactics and exorbitant costs to keep information from the public,” said BJ Schulte, a lawyer with EELC. “All my clients want is to independently assess the efficacy of the Clean Trucks Program. At this point we are evaluating all legal options for getting the information they need, and more importantly, have a right to obtain.”
Given the results of the program, Coalition for Healthy Ports partners are demanding more answers and action.
“Millions in Recovery Act funds which were intended for job creation were funneled into this misguided port policy. We warned the Port Authority it would lead to job degradation and continued pollution, and now the proof is in the pudding that’s just what we got,” said Amy Goldsmith of the New Jersey Environmental Federation. “How many truck drivers must be forced into bankruptcy, how many deadlines will be delayed, or how many millions in wasted taxpayer dollars before the Port Authority wises up?”
“There are real world, life and death consequences for port-area residents and truck drivers,” said Ana Baptista with the Ironbound Community Corporation in Newark. “Replacing 11 trucks out of a fleet of more than 7,000 does nothing to reduce diesel pollution, eliminate childhood asthma, prevent heart disease and clean the air in New York and New Jersey and it certainly didn’t create any jobs for our residents – instead it created more hardships for the drivers who are already overburdened by debt and low wages. This is an environmental injustice for both the drivers and community residents impacted by port pollution every day.”