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Governor Vetoes Port Smog Curbs

Times Staff Writers

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Wednesday vetoed a bill to force the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to limit air pollution, angering environmentalists who said the health of surrounding residents was being threatened by dirty air from ships, trucks, trains and wharf equipment.

One of the most closely watched environmental bills of the session, the legislation would have required the ports to keep air pollution at or below 2004 levels. The fast-growing Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex is the largest air polluter in Southern California.

John McLaurin, president of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Assn., welcomed the veto, calling the bill “clearly well-intended” but “vague in how it was to be implemented and flawed in its construction.”

He vowed that the shipping lines and terminal operators his group represents would continue to make changes to improve air quality in Long Beach and Los Angeles.

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Environmentalists, however, accused the governor of turning his back on the cause of clean air.

“I think he had a choice between clean air and big business,” said Bill Magavern, a senior lobbyist for the Sierra Club. “And he chose big business. The air in the L.A. and Long Beach regions is never going to be clean unless we get a handle on port emissions.”

With just one day remaining for the governor to veto bills or see them automatically become law, Schwarzenegger took action on parts of two packages of legislation that have rallied consumer and labor groups:

* He vetoed three of five bills aimed at curbing and tracking the outsourcing of California jobs to foreign countries -- a cost-saving practice some companies have turned to.

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* He vetoed one of nine bills aimed at cutting prescription drug costs, some by easing access to cheaper Canadian prescription drugs.

Advocates for the disabled, elderly and consumers expect vetoes today on the remaining prescription drug bills, including one that would require the state to establish a website linking consumers to Canadian pharmacies. Drugs can be purchased there up to 40% cheaper than in the U.S.

Federal law bans the importation of prescription drugs from outside the U.S., but an estimated 1 million Americans have bought such drugs either in person or through the mail from Canada to avoid spiraling prices at home.

The governor “has consistently said that he will not sign legislation that is a violation of federal law,” Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Ashley Snee said. She noted that the administration had warned authors of the prescription drug bills -- all Democrats -- that it would oppose the measures unless they were amended.

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Snee refused to speculate on the fate of the two remaining outsourcing bills, including one to require large California companies to tell the state each year how many people they employ abroad.

The outsourcing bills killed by the governor included SB 888 by Sen. Joe Dunn (D-Santa Ana) and AB 1829 by Assemblywoman Carol Liu (D-La Canada Flintridge), which together would have banned state agencies from contracting for work done by foreign employees.

Schwarzenegger also vetoed SB 1492 by Dunn, which would have required that healthcare providers get permission from patients before sending medical information overseas.

Democratic lawmakers and labor unions had lobbied hard for the bills, saying Schwarzenegger had accepted at least $3.7 million in campaign contributions from firms that shipped jobs overseas to cut costs.

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In a veto message on the port air-pollution measure, Schwarzenegger wrote that the bill, AB 2042 by Assemblyman Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), “will not reduce pollution in any way.”

“We need to focus our scarce resources on substantive, prompt action that will make real progress toward our shared air quality goals,” wrote the governor, who campaigned on a promise to cut California’s air pollution in half by 2010.

Lowenthal said he was disappointed but would persist.

“More people are going to die,” he said. “More kids are going to develop diminished lung capacity. More kids are going to get asthma, and all we’re going to do is talk.”

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Lowenthal called his bill a response to increasing public concerns about port pollution, particularly diesel fumes, a probable carcinogen.

The Los Angeles-Long Beach ports account for 24% of diesel emissions in the region. Cargo moving through the facilities is expected to quadruple by 2025.

Complaints from residents prompted Long Beach port commissioners Wednesday to rethink plans for expanding Pier J, citing health concerns.

More public outcry is expected today as officials resume talks on how to expand the Long Beach Freeway, the main truck conduit between the ports and inland areas.

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The Lowenthal bill would have required the ports to work with local and state air regulators to stabilize pollution at 2004 levels or below. If they could not reach agreement, the ports would have been allowed to develop emission baselines, to be approved by local regulators.

The bill did not require the ports to follow specific anti-pollution measures.

Interest in the bill mounted among local residents in recent weeks after publication of a USC study showing that children in the Los Angeles area, including Long Beach, suffered permanent loss of lung capacity function in communities with dirty air.

A separate study by a USC epidemiologist found an unexplained increase in certain cancer rates downwind of the ports and the Long Beach Freeway.

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The bill was strongly opposed by the Port of Long Beach, the California Chamber of Commerce and other business groups. They predicted the measure would discourage port growth and harm the economy.

“The bill imposes growth restrictions that will limit imports and exports, causing price increases for California consumers and cost increases for California exporters,” opponents wrote in a Sept. 3 letter to Schwarzenegger.

Most port pollution comes from mobile sources such as ships and trucks, and the ports have no power to control them, opponents of the bill said.

Moreover, the bill would have given oversight to the South Coast Air Quality Management District, when such authority should be left to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or the state Air Resources Board, opponents said.

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Some critics said the bill would have unfairly punished the Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex and sent business to other West Coast ports, boosting pollution there.

Supporters had argued that Los Angeles and Long Beach must be singled out, because they handled 70% of the West Coast’s container trade last year and generated the most air pollution

“To say this bill would not reduce pollution when it would take steps to stop pollution from growing -- that’s just misleading,” said Tim Carmichael, president of the Coalition for Clean Air, a statewide group that championed the measure.

“The bottom-line reason why it was vetoed is that there was a lot of pressure from industry,” he said.

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Schwarzenegger also weighed in on animal bills Wednesday, signing two measures that had been held up for ridicule as the type of “silly bills” the governor has said should be eliminated:

* He approved bans on the force-feeding of ducks and geese to fatten their livers for foie gras, making California the only state to have such a law. Passionately opposed by chefs, the bill was championed by animal rights activists, who enlisted Sen. John Burton (D-San Francisco) as sponsor of SB 1520.

Schwarzenegger noted that the ban -- which also would prohibit the sale of pate made through force-feeding -- does not kick in for another 7 1/2 years to give producers time to “perfect a humane way for a duck to consume grain to increase the size of its liver through natural processes.”

“If agricultural producers are successful in this endeavor,” he wrote, “the ban on foie gras sales and production in California will not occur.”

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* He also approved legislation, AB 1857 by Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood), making it a crime to declaw exotic cats or native wild cats -- a category that includes tigers, cougars, leopards, lynxes, bobcats, cheetahs and jaguars.

* He rejected a bill to allow ferrets to be kept as pets, even while saying: “I love ferrets. I co-starred with a ferret in ‘Kindergarten Cop.’ ” He said the state needed more extensive study of the issues involved in the keeping of the animals. Vetoed was SB 89 by Sen. Dede Alpert (D-San Diego).

Schwarzenegger also moved to untangle California’s maze of “categorical” programs for schools, by which lawmakers designate about $12 billion a year to special education classes, class-size reduction, low-income students and more than 100 other needs. He signed AB 825 by Assemblyman Marco Firebaugh (D-Los Angeles), which consolidates 22 such programs into six block grants.

“Maybe most importantly, it reverses a generation worth of increasing micro-management from Sacramento,” said Bob Blattner, vice president of School Services of California, a consulting and lobbying firm that represents school districts.

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In other action:

* California will devote as much as $1 billion over several years to 2,400 low-performing schools under a package of bills Schwarzenegger signed that carry out an August settlement between the state and the American Civil Liberties Union.

The ACLU had sued in May 2000, alleging the state failed to provide tens of thousands of poor students such educational basics as qualified teachers, working restrooms and up-to-date textbooks.

* The governor signed a bill, AB 2572 by Assemblywoman Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego), to force Sacramento, Modesto and several other Central Valley cities to use water meters like those long commonplace in Southern California.

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* Schwarzenegger signed a bill, AB 2901 by Assemblywoman Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), to require cellphone makers to take back their used products.

“It will give consumers a way to recycle their used cellphones so they don’t end up in landfills,” said the Sierra Club’s Magavern.

* The governor signed AB 1009 by Pavley, a bill with widespread support that requires trucks entering California from Mexico to meet national emissions standards.

Times staff writers Schoch reported from Los Angeles and Vogel from Sacramento. Staff writer Jordan Rau contributed to this report.

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