REVEALED: Residents around the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach were paid to show support for natural gas trucks at community hearings
Trucks move across Terminal Island, which is shared by the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach. The vast majority of trucks moving into and out of the two ports are diesel. Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times
Read our latest investigation
Diesel truck pollution from the busiest port complex in the United States has fouled the air in nearby neighborhoods in southern California for decades. So when port officials asked for feedback on cleaning up that pollution, hundreds of people weighed in.
Los Angeles and Long Beach officials hoped residents would help them decide whether to require zero-pollution electric trucks or instead promote vehicles powered by natural gas, a fossil fuel.
What officials didn’t know was that some of the locals who urged support for natural gas trucks were being paid by a firm hired by the gas industry.
A joint investigation by the Times and the news outlet Floodlight in partnership with the Guardian found that in 2017, at least 20 local residents were organized by Method Campaign Services to push for “near-zero-emission” trucks at the ports. Their comments at public meetings and press conferences bolstered successful industry lobbying for trucks that run on natural gas, which is less polluting than diesel but still contributes to lung-damaging emissions and climate change.
This latest investigation builds on Floodlight's reporting revealing how the gas industry is fighting local climate efforts around the country.
Last month, a Floodlight collaboration with Grist and ADAPT documented how gas companies fought the city of Tampa's efforts to move toward 100% clean energy. The industry simultaneously lobbied the Florida legislature to prohibit further local climate efforts—following a nationwide trend.
Florida lawmakers approved the legislation, and Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it into law in June. Reporters Emily Pontecorvo and Brendan Rivers found that the bill's sponsor, state Sen. Travis Hutson received indirect campaign donations from a Tampa utility backing the proposal.
In March, Floodlight documented with the Texas Observer and San Antonio Report how gas utilities have successfully lobbied against climate plans in Texas cities. Texas' legislature and governor have since enacted a law pre-empting local climate actions.
This week's collaboration also marks the addition of Miranda Green as a contributing editor and reporter for Floodlight. Green is a Los Angeles-based freelance reporter covering California and the West. She’s a frequent contributor to the New York Times, New York Magazine, The Washington Post and The Atlantic, among others. Previously, she reported from Washington, D.C., for seven years on the environment, climate change and politics, as a staff reporter for CNN, The Hill, The Daily Beast and Scripps News.