Cleaning up Pollution in Ports to Save Lives

Cleaning up Pollution in Ports to Save Lives

Thursday, July 17, 2008



WHAT: An event coinciding with the annual meeting of the National Conference of State Legislators sponsored by PSN and the National Labor Caucus.   Participants will develop and share strategies to advance real solutions to the issues that matter most to America’s working families, including the growing economic crisis, worker’s rights, health care, fair immigration reform, and smart growth and clean energy.
W New Orleans Hotel, New Orleans, LA
9:00am to 1:30pm, Monday, July 21, 2008
SPEAKERS INCLUDE: New York Times Best-Selling Author David Sirota and national radio commentator and author Jim Hightower


Cleaning up Pollution in Ports to Save Lives

Trucks carrying cheap imported goods are polluting the air and poisoning children who live near the ports where those goods enter the country.  Addressing that problem, the California Assembly on Tuesday approved SB 974, sponsored by Sen. Alan Lowenthal who represents the Long Beach port area, which will impose a new fee on containers entering and leaving the ports to fund programs to alleviate that pollution.

The problem is stark. As the Coalition for Clean Air highlights:

  • The Air Resources Board estimates that 3,700 Californians die prematurely each year due to pollution from the ports and freight transportation.
  • Pollution leads to 360,000 sick days for workers and 1.1 million missed school days for children in California.
  • Traffic congestion due to the ports imposes significant costs on the state economy.

The new $60 per container fee, which would, for example, add just a few pennies to the cost of a DVD player, would provide $400 million per year in new funding to promote improvements in infrastructure such as new overpasses to remove heavy trucks from the streets, and to support cleaner-burning trucks and train engines. 

The Senate has already supported a version of the bill and, in a July 2007 poll, the Public Policy Institute of California found that 68% of Californians favor a container fee at the state’s largest ports to help relieve congestion and fix air pollution.  The Governor has yet to commit to signing the bill.

As we described last year, pollution in the ports is the long-term result of a dilapidating infrastructure and the lowering of working conditions for drivers, which has left them without the means to upgrade their trucks to be less polluting.  The proposed state law comes on top of an unanimous decision in March by the Port of Los Angeles to approve its landmark Clean Trucks Program.  This program will convert a system of underpaid owner-operators into fleet operations where the employers will have the capital and responsibility to operate low-emission cargo vehicles -- a policy that will reduce pollution in the immediate port area by 80 percent in five years. 

More Resources


Businesses Not Providing Health Care to Pay Increased Assessments under MA Governor's Proposal

To close funding gaps in the state's new health care law and encourage more employers to provide health coverage for their employees, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick this week proposed raising an additional $33 million from employers with more than 10 workers who don't contribute at least one-third of workers' premiums within the first 90 days of employment and don't have at least 25% of their employees enrolled in insurance plans.  The plan would raise additional funds by assessing fees on insurers' reserve accounts. 

According to advocates, this tightening of the rules for employers is actually just restoring the law to what was intended.  While legislators had projected that the law would raise $103 million from employers in the first three years, loose regulations written by former Governor Romney led to only a projected $15 million being raised.  As Brian Rosman at Health Care for All argues:

The fact is, Governor Patrick is proposing only that employers offering no or little health coverage to their workers support the program as originally intended ... In fairness, these employers ought to make at least a modest contribution to the cost of their worker’s care.

In this argument, Rosman is supported by a poll showing that 75 percent of state residents support the assessment on employers who fail to offer health insurance to their employees.  While the Massachusetts law is not perfect, many employers in Massachusetts have stepped up and expanded health care coverage for their employees.  It's those employers who haven't who will pay the fees to the state.

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States Apply Pressure to Allow Voter Registration Drives in Veterans' Facilities

The federal Department of Veterans Affairs for months has been embroiled in a controversy over its prohibition on voter registration drives in veterans' facilities.  Now 10 Secretaries of State and the Attorney General of Connecticut have stepped into the maelstrom, demanding that the VA reverse its policy.  Late last month, Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal attempted to register voters at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in West Haven.  They were prevented by staff from registering voters inside the facility, but they were able to register a dozen veterans as they were leaving.  One newly registered voter is 92-year-old WWII veteran Martin Onieal.

Controversy over voter registration activities in veterans' facilities has been brewing for some time, largely due to the efforts of Steven Rosenfeld at Alternet who has covered the story thoroughly.  In response to a court ruling earlier this year which held that voter registration groups do not have a right to access VA facilities, Senators Feinstein and Kerry wrote to the VA Secretary urged that VA facilities be designated as voter registration agencies under the National Voter Registration Act.  At first the response from the VA was that helping veteran register to vote would be “partisan”? and therefore inappropriate.  After significant attention in the press, a directive was released that required every VA facility to develop a comprehensive voter registration plan to assist veterans with registration.  However, the VA quickly backtracked, stipulating that veterans would only be helped if they requested assistance and no voter registration drives would be permitted.

Secretaries of State Take Action: In response to more questioning from Senators Feinstein and Kerry, the VA has defended its position by claiming that allowing voter registration would interfere with its mission of serving veterans, and that doing so would also violate the Hatch Act which prevents public employees from engaging in political activities at work.  This tortured reasoning seems to have laid bare the VA’s true concern, which appears merely to be that veterans might vote in large numbers.  In response, Secretaries of State Bysiewicz of Connecticut and Reed of Washington have brought together a bi-partisan group of Secretaries of State from across the country to demand that the VA open up its facilities to non-partisan voter education and registration activities.  They are joined by Attorney General Blumenthal who has written a legal opinion attacking the VA’s bogus justifications for the voter registration ban.

The involvement of the Secretaries of State is important as they are responsible for ensuring that all eligible voters in their states have the opportunity to register and vote.  This is no less important for veterans of our armed services, and shouldn’t depend upon whether or not they reside at a VA facility.  The reality here is that not only are our veterans being disrespected by the federal government, which shows no interest in helping them exercise their basic civic rights, but their voice is actively being silenced by a VA system that is supposed to be supporting them.  Hopefully, as the states bring more pressure on the VA to reverse course, we will finally see some movement in the VA’s unconscionable position.

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Building a Better Measure of Poverty Rates

States don't really know how many of their residents are poor.  The current federal poverty measure uses a forty-year old, widely criticized methodology.  It neither accounts for many of the resources poor families receive from the government, such as Food Stamps and the EITC, nor does it, conversely, factor in many additional expenses the poor face that are not accounted for in the federal measure, such as transportation costs, child care and local costs of living.  To address these problems, New York City has established a new set of measures of what income a family needs to provide for basic necessities.  Instead of the $16,242 that the federal government assumes a parent and two children can live on, the new NYC measure assumes the family needs at least $21,702 not to be poor.

While the new measure, developed by the city's Center for Economic Opportunity (CEO), does not immediately change current funding for local programs, it has led to a few preliminary findings that will help policymakers better understand the dynamics of poverty:

  • The NYC poverty rate using the new measure is 23%, opposed to 18.9% using the federal rate.
  • Under the new measure, fewer people are living in extreme poverty (below 50% of the threshold), just 6.5% compared to 7.4% under the official measure. 
  • Under the new measure, the poverty rate for the elderly increases significantly, from 18.1% under the federal measure to 32% under the new one.

"If we are serious about fighting poverty, we also have to start getting serious about accurately measuring poverty,”? said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  "We can’t devise effective strategies for tackling poverty until we understand its full dimensions.”?   Inspired by New York City's example, the U.S. Congress is holding hearings on July 17th on "Establishing a Modern Poverty Measure" to examine what needs to be done nationally to better measure poverty rates.

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Research Roundup

With the stock market diving, taking many retirees' futures with it, state and local defined benefit pension plans remain an example of an efficient and sustainable approach to retirement savings, according to testimony by the Center for American Progress.  Instead of the fad for contribution plans like 401(k)s, the Center recommends that policymakers look to strengthen defined benefit retirement plans in both the public and private sector as the best way to promote a stable financial future for retirees.

Children under 5 suffer cognitive, behavioral and social development harms when they lack stable housing, so the current housing crisis of foreclosures and unaffordable housing will cause long-term economic and social damage, according to a new report by the Partnership for America's Economic Succcess.  For example, research suggests that children who experience frequent moves during their youngest years are far less likely to graduate from high school.

The gap in life expectancy between people of different incomes has been growing in the last two decades, according to this graphic snapshot by the Economic Policy Institute.

In No Small Change, the Institute for Money in State Politics finds that most state candidate and initiative campaigns receive very little of their money from small donors.  Ballot measure committees reported just 0.5 percent of their more than $1 billion in contributions as unitemized donations from small contributors in 2006.

One result of hyper-competition in the global economy is that private U.S. companies are not producing as many technological innovations as they did a generation ago, according to a new report, Where Do Innovations Come From? from the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation.   Most key innovations are coming from spin-offs from universities and federal labs based on government funding, a lesson for policymakers thinking about economic development in their communities.

Please email us leads on good research at


Cleaning up Pollution in Ports to Save Lives

CA SB 974
Progressive States Network, How Exploited "Independent Contractor" Truckers Drive Pollution in Our Ports
Coalition for Clean Air, Protect Public Health, Our Economy and Our Ports
Coalition for Clean & Safe Ports

Businesses Not Providing Health Care to Pay Increased Assessments under MA Governor's Proposal

Progressive States Network, Mass. Health Care Reform One-Year Later: Clear Successes and Challenges Emerge
Health Care for All, Revising History and the “Crucial Compromise”?
Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, Massachusetts Gov. Patrick Proposes Requiring Businesses, Insurers, Hospitals To Contribute More to State's Health Insurance Law

States Apply Pressure to Allow Voter Registration Drives in Veterans' Facilities

Alternet ”“ Articles by Steven Rosenfeld
Connecticut and Washington Secretaries of State Launch National Bi-Partisan Campaign to Overturn VA Ban on Voter Registration Drives
Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal - Opinion on VA Voter Registration Drive Policy

Building a Better Measure of Poverty Rates

NYC Center for Economic Opportunity, An Alternative to the Federal Poverty Measure
U.S. Congress  Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support, Hearing on Establishing a Modern Poverty Measure


The Stateside Dispatch is written and edited by:

Nathan Newman, Policy Director
Julie Schwartz, Policy Specialist
Christian Smith-Socaris, Policy Specialist
Adam Thompson, Policy Specialist
Austin Guest, Operations Manager
Marisol Thomer, Outreach Coordinator

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