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A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing: BNSF's Proposed SCIG Railyard Isn't a "Green" Project

Lizzeth Henao

Posted November 11, 2011

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Last night, NRDC joined our environmental justice allies, including East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, Coalition for a Safe Environment, and Communities for a Better Environment at a public meeting, to express our opposition to the Southern California International Gateway (SCIG) project. The proposed project is to build a new railyard for the BNSF Railway Company in a Wilmington neighborhood, next to several schools and daycare centers. If alarm bells are not already ringing in your head, read about our recently filed lawsuit against BNSF and Union Pacific to learn about the diesel pollution they create in environmental justice communities. And read about our ongoing opposition to the SCIG project here and here.

The standing-room only crowd was a testament to what’s at stake and demonstrated the commitment of community residents to standing up against corporate greed and fighting for the well-being of their families.

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Also in the crowd were members of various labor unions wearing orange BNSF T-shirts which claimed that the SCIG project would provide “Good Jobs, Less Traffic, Cleaner Air.” These T-shirts represent a textbook public relations spin for what we know is a very polluting project. 

Labor tshirt.JPGAlthough supporters testified that the project is “green,” will reduce air pollution, and will bring much-needed jobs, the sad truth is that the SCIG is not a “green” project. Although some of the equipment used in the proposed facility would be electrified, the two biggest sources of air pollution—the trains and the trucks—will not be electric. The project would generate 2 million truck trips a year. That’s close to 5,500 truck trips a day. While these trucks are cleaner than they used to be thanks to the ports’ Clean Truck Programs, they are still not zero-emissions vehicles. They still pollute toxic diesel particulate matter into the air. The environmental analysis for this project claims that it will reduce truck traffic, but that claim has to be taken with a grain of salt. While this project might reduce the number of trucks travelling on the I-710 freeway, it will increase—by 2 million—the trucks traveling to the neighborhoods adjacent to the project. Accordingly, as explained by a representative from the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) who testified at yesterday’s hearing, the SCIG project would increase the cancer risk for the surrounding community.

In these hard economic times, it is understandable that people want any project that promises jobs. Unfortunately, corporations use this desperation to steamroll bad projects that would do more harm than good. And just to be clear, we are not against job creation or economic growth, a charge often leveled at environmentalists. As members of the Blue-Green Alliance, a partnership of environmental and labor groups fighting for a 21st century economy, we are committed to economic development. We want good paying, local jobs and economic growth at the port, but building at the expense of the health of residents is the wrong way to grow. We cannot support projects that pose unacceptable health risks to the surrounding communities and increase toxic emissions into our air.

The reality is that the SCIG project should be built at the harbor, on-dock, and not in the middle of a low-income, minority neighborhood that is already overburdened by high air pollution levels and higher asthma and cancer risks than elsewhere in the Los Angeles region. The “good jobs, less traffic, cleaner air” claims will be more accurate for an on-dock project than for the current proposed location.

If you want to get involved, the next public hearing will be November 16, 2011, 6 p.m., at the Wilmington Senior Center, 1371 Eubank St. in Wilmington. You can read the environmental reports here. The deadline to submit comments is December 22, 2011. 

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