In 2010, the Port Authority announced a truck replacement plan aimed at getting ancient, exhaust-spewing trucks off the roads surrounding its port in Newark, New Jersey. The goal was to begin to undo the decades of harmful health outcomes for the low-income communities surrounding the port by making newer truck models mandatory, cutting 95 percent of harmful emissions from the trucks by 2017. But the Port Authority abruptly pulled the plug on the plan at the beginning of 2016, and a Village Voice investigation found that it had spent over $35 million to replace only 429 trucks. A new study, commissioned by an environmental group that has been at the forefront of the fight against pollution in the area, shows just how badly the Port Authority has failed in keeping the air surrounding the port safe for nearby communities, and how its revised truck ban has continued to allow ancient rigs to stay in use.
According to the report, which was written by the independent group Sustainable Systems Research, almost 60 percent of trucks entering the port in 2018 will be more than ten years old, as compared to the 0 percent that would have entered had the original ban gone through. What that means in terms of continued air quality in the area is harrowing: There will be eleven times more particulate matter emissions from port terminals than if the original ban had been enacted, while approximately 400,000 to 700,000 adults in the area will experience a rise in the risk of premature mortality by at least one in a million.
The figure below shows how the revised ban, which only eliminated trucks from 1994 to 1995, compares to the original ban, which would have eliminated all trucks from before 2007.
And here’s a map showing the rise in mortality rates associated with the particulate matter emissions:
The Port Authority has continued to defend its environmental policies. In a statement to the Voice, Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman said, “We are proud of our environmental investments and initiatives — including hundreds of millions spent on the port’s rail system, buying cleaner-burning trucks, a clean vessel incentive program, and environmentally friendly yard-handling equipment — which led to a 65 percent reduction in particulate matter pollution since 2006.”
Following the Voice investigation into the failed truck replacement program, several U.S. senators, including former Newark mayor Cory Booker, called on the EPA to step up its efforts to reduce pollution at the port. Mayor Ras Baraka of Newark, in coordination with the Coalition for Healthy Ports (the group that commissioned the recent report), has also continued to apply pressure to the Port Authority to clean up its act.
Last month, the first of a series of massive ships entered Port Newark thanks to the raising of the Bayonne Bridge, which will allow larger ships coming through the expanded Panama Canal to reach New York’s port. The increase in cargo container load will lead to more trucks on Newark’s streets, as the region lacks any substantive rail freight options for local delivery.