Coming Clean?

You have to wonder what Federal Maritime Chairman Richard A. Lidinsky Jr. was up to when he handed an inaugural “Earth Day” award to the Port of Los Angeles, which shares the same blue, and cleaner, skies as the neighboring Port of Long Beach.

But in fact Lidinsky ignored the port next door even though Long Beach has every bit as much to do with developing and rolling out a clean trucks program in Southern California, and has achieved similarly impressive results in emission reductions.

Lidinsky said “Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Port Executive Director Geraldine Knatz and their team have shown real leadership,” as if Long Beach didn't exist as if the same trucks don’t move as seamlessly between the ports as the air.

I emailed Lidinsky asking him why Long Beach was omitted from the award. His response appears below.

My initial reaction was that this smells political. In fact, Lidinsky weighed right into the most hotly political issue in the transportation industry today. The Long Beach clean trucks plan does not require truckers picking up and delivering containers to be employees of the trucking company and thus open for unionization by the Teamsters. The Los Angeles program does have such a provision, an effort by the port and pro-union Mayor Villaraigosa to give the Teamsters the opening in harbor trucking that they have been seeking for years.

The American Trucking Associations has successfully had that part of the Los Angeles program halted in federal court but now a union/environmentalist/Port of LA coalition is petitioning Congress to change the law.

What is interesting is how different a posture this is from the FMC.

The agency had unsuccessfully challenged the employee-driver mandates in the clean trucks program in federal court, so it might appear odd that that same agency would interject itself into a hotly controversial and political issue that is teed-up for a May 5 hearing on Capitol Hill. But the truth appears to be this wasn't really an “FMC” action at all -- it was Lidinsky, acting on his own. Two FMC commissioners, Rebecca Dye and Michael Khouri, reportedly first learned of the award in the news. And it was curious that advocates of the employee-driver mandate immediately seized on the announcement with their own statements of praise. You might have thought they knew it was coming.

The apparent snub wasn’t lost on the good people of Long Beach. See the Long Beach Post’s take on this:

Here is an update on the award given to the Port of LA.
FMC Chairman Richard A. Lidinsky Jr. responded by email Friday by noting he saying he wants to “clear the air of a number of “conspiracy” theories on my new award.”

Here is what he wrote:

“First, LA did not receive the award because I have relatives living there or because the Dodgers are my favorite NL team.

“Second, as the award simply states, it is for “Outstanding Environmental Leadership” and during my tours of both ports last fall, as well as reading of the efforts of both of these outstanding ports to clean the air, I’ve been particularly impressed by the clean truck activity on the LA side of the port complex (see photo of me with LA clean trucks on the press release). In my personal opinion, both the City and Port of LA showed exceptional leadership on the clean truck issue. That, along with the other criteria listed in our statement, is why I singled them out. But my decision was not in any way meant as a criticism of Long Beach – or anyone else in the industry who is doing great work make the shipping process more sustainable.

“Third, I think Long Beach’s program is also top notch in this and other areas, and on Earth Day I wore the Green Port tie Long Beach gave me. The LA and Long Beach programs share many similarities, and there are also good green efforts at several other ports around the country. But I wanted to make the award exclusive to one maritime environment leader each year, so that it would have more impact. With the attention and speculation that have followed this past week, it appears that mission was accomplished. I look forward to Oscar-level speculation next year, and I’m sure Long Beach will be among the top candidates.”

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