Cleaning truck programs

It’s time the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach started paying attention to cleaning up truck pollution at the ports.

You probably thought the ports were cleaning up trucks with their much-trumpeted, highly debated clean-trucks programs, but there’s really much more behind the programs. That’s become clear since a court enjoined portions of the ports’ plans late last month, imposing some much-needed legal order while at the same time releasing into the open air the very foul intent behind disputed provisions of the programs.

The court, briefly, granted the American Trucking Associations’ motion to enjoin provisions of the programs dealing specifically with driver employment, including one that would regulate away independent drivers by requiring truckers working at the Port of Los Angeles to be employed by companies holding concession agreements.

How devastating was U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder’s order?

“We are still banning older trucks and collecting the clean-trucks fee to fund replacement trucks,” Port of Long Beach Executive Director Richard D. Steinke told The Los Angeles Times. “That allows us to achieve our goal of cleaning the air and protecting the health of our community.”
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa agrees. He said the port is “moving full steam ahead with removing dirty diesel trucks from our communities and harmful pollutants from our air.”

So in the aftermath of a devastating series of court decisions that cut out a portion of the clean-trucks program once deemed an anchor of the effort, officials in Los Angeles and Long Beach say the court order will have no impact on the air around the ports. They are at pains to say the driver portion of the regulation affects environmental cleanup efforts because, quite plainly, it does not.

But the employee-driver provision, as well other portions of the program focusing on issues such as health insurance and directing companies on which drayage drivers to hire, has never been about the environment.

The provisions plainly violate the Motor Carrier Act of 1980, the federal law that deregulated interstate trucking, along with, for good measure, the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The programs lay that out clearly enough, and if it needs to be any clearer, look at the coalition of groups that backed those provisions and now, according to reports in the Southern California media, wants Congress to open up trucking deregulation again.

Tom Politeo of the Sierra Club’s Harbor Vision Task Force condemned not only the court ruling but also “an unaccountable market ideology that has allowed poverty and pollution to plague our communities for nearly three decades.”

It’s easy enough to argue, of course, that Politeo and his backers are out on the margins and that a vision of rates and services being mandated by state regulatory authorities will go nowhere. And it won’t.

But the ports are doing a disservice to their communities, to the transportation world and to their customers by continuing to take part in this regulatory charade. Two courts have spoken as clearly as courts can, and public officials say the programs are working without having to violate interstate commerce law. It’s time the ports dropped the court challenge and let the plans work just the way they say they are.

Paul Page is editorial director of The Journal of Commerce. He can be contacted at 202-355-1170, or at ppage@joc.com.

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