The dredging dilemma: How not to balance economic development and environmental protection
For months, huge modern ships, hired to carry containers of clothes and consumer electronics from Asia to American stores and to return to Japan with California fruit and cotton, have been unable to sail fully laden into Oakland, a major West Coast port. The ships must drop some of their cargo in Los Angeles, and even then must wait at Oakland for high tide to flow into San Francisco Bay. The reason is that the Port of Oakland has been unable to make its harbor deep enough. For the last several years the powerful dredging machines that in a short time could deepen the harbor have stood idle, waiting for legal permission to proceed. A seemingly endless series of lawsuits and regulatory delays have blocked any authoritative decision about where the dredged sediments, some of which may contain potentially toxic chemical wastes, can be deposited without risking harm to aquatic habitats and human health. The Port of Oakland's dredging dilemma suggests that the legal and political institutions currently employed in the United States provide a woefully unreliable and wasteful way of making those difficult decisions.