Friday, September 28, 2012

Calif. Gov. Vetoes Shore Power Bill

California Gov. Jerry Brown has vetoed a bill that would have required the state Air Resources Board to reimburse 90 percent of project costs of certain shore power electrification projects. In its place, he issued an executive order mandating the ARB amend its program guidelines.

Senate Bill 234, which was returned without the governor’s signature Sept. 25, would have mandated that each port pay the retrofit costs upfront and then the state would reimburse funds on a quarterly basis. But in a statement explaining his veto, Brown said the legislation would have circumvented accountability standards.

“Allowing only a 10 percent withholding does not afford the necessary insurance that the state’s seaports have the commitment and resources necessary to see the project to completion,” he wrote.

The statement goes on to say that Brown has directed the Air Resources Board to amend its program guidelines to allow quarterly reimbursement of up to 80 percent of eligible costs under certain circumstances.

“We all share the goal of providing shore-side electrical power to ships at berth in order to reduce harmful emissions at and near the ports,” the governor wrote. “This is a solvable problem.”

Shore side power systems are being developed to comply with new California regulations requiring that ships anchored at ports throughout the state turn off their engines to limit emissions. Vessels will be required plug into equipment at the marine terminals, allowing them to shut down their diesel engines and reduce harmful air emissions.

In 2007, the ARB approved regulations mandating a reduction in emissions from diesel auxiliary engines on container, passenger and refrigerated cargo ships anchored at California ports. Under the rules, emissions must be reduced by 80 percent by 2020.

ILWU’s McEllrath Retried on Obstruction Charges

International Longshore and Warehouse Union President Robert McEllrath is being retried in a Cowlitz County, Washington court on charges that he helped obstruct a train during protests at a Port of Longview grain terminal last summer.

The retrial began Sept. 26 in Cowlitz County District Court. McEllrath was first tried in District Court last June, but the two-day trial ended after the six jurists hearing the case couldn’t agree on a verdict, resulting in a hung jury.

The union head is accused of a misdemeanor charge of obstructing a train during a Sept. 7, 2011 protest at the EGT grain terminal. Prosecutors contend he directed ILWU members and supporters to block a grain delivery train.

At the time, ILWU Local 21 was in a dispute with terminal operator EGT over EGT’s usage of labor. The local had contended that its contract with the Port of Longview required that the 25 to 35 jobs inside the terminal go to ILWU workers. The company, however, said its lease agreement with the port did not specify ILWU workers. Members of International Union of Operating Engineers Local 701 had been working at the terminal.

The labor issue was settled under an agreement ratified by the port Jan. 27, which states that all labor at the terminal must be dispatched through the Local 21 union hall.

Although McEllrath had been the highest-ranking union member charged in the case, he was not the only one. In March, the president of the Local 21 chapter and a member of the union’s executive board both pleaded guilty to charges related to last summer’s protests at the terminal.

McEllrath has denied the charge, saying he had no control over the crowd during the protest.

US House Passes Coal Protection Bill

HR 3409, a group of bills that could affect the status of numerous coal terminal projects in the Pacific Northwest if it becomes law, has passed the US House of Representatives on a 233-175 vote.

The five bills, informally known as the “Stop the War on Coal Act,” are sponsored by Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH) and were approved by the House Sept. 21. They include provisions to prevent the Interior Department from instituting new coal mining regulations that could harm the industry until at least Dec. 31, 2013, plus push back EPA Clean Air Act regulations.

One lawmaker, Congressman Peter Defazio (D-OR) lobbied to have the bill amended to include a study to examine the impacts that coal dust can have as its being transported. The amendment, which was blocked by the Republican majority, would have required the US Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency to issue a report to Congress about fugitive coal dust within six months of the bill’s passage.

Opponents in Washington and Oregon claim the dust is one of the primary reasons they are trying to put the brakes on numerous proposals to import coal from inland states by train and then ship it to countries in Asia.

Among the largest coal export proposals is at the Port of Longview, where Millennium Bulk Terminals has applied for permits to build a $600 million terminal in a bid to become one of the biggest coal exporters in North America.

Several of the other larger coal export related port expansions are also now undergoing the formal permitting process, including Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point in Washington state; Kinder Morgan Terminals at St. Helen’s, Oregon; and Coyote Island Terminal at the Port of Morrow.

Now that HR 3409 has passed the House, it goes on to the Democrat-controlled Senate for a vote.

Seattle Port Commissioners Hire CEO Investigation Team

The Port of Seattle Commission announced on Sept. 25 that Commissioners Tom Albro and Rob Holland have hired legal counsel and an ethics expert to review the port’s position that CEO Tay Yoshitani serving on the board of directors of Expeditors International does not represent a conflict of interest.

Those hired by Albro and Holland are: Gerry Alexander, a former chief justice of the Supreme Court of the State of Washington from 2001 to 2010, who’s now with the firm of Bean, Gentry, Wheeler & Peternell in Olympia; Russ Perisho, former partner at Perkins Coie from 1978 to 2008. He’s currently in sole practice in Poulsbo; and LeeAnn Pelham, former executive director of the City of Los Angeles Ethics Commission from 2001 to 2011.

On Sept. 11, the Commission unanimously passed a motion requesting a review and timeline of pertinent events from March 1, 2011 to Sept. 10, 2012 that led to Yoshitani’s acceptance of the board position with Expeditors, a Seattle-based for-profit logistics company.

Yoshitani, who has been the port’s executive director since March 2007, was announced Aug. 7 as the newest member of Expeditors’ board of directors. In the role, he stands to earn more than $230,000 in annual compensation – consisting of $30,000 in cash and up to $200,000 in restricted stock options – on top of the nearly $367,000 a year he earns at the port.

The Seattle Port Authority said in August it has found no apparent conflict of interest in the arrangement.

The outside counsel and ethics expert are expected present their reports and offer any recommendations for improvements or changes to the port’s and Commission’s ethics policies during the Commission’s Oct. 23 public meeting.