Efforts to overturn the federal deregulation of intrastate trucking and allow ports to regulate trucking services may be moving forward on Capitol Hill, but key members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee have yet to sign on.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., plans to introduce legislation shortly that would allow Los Angeles and other ports to ban owner-operators and require motor carriers to use only employee drivers to pick up and discharge containers at port terminals.
Nadler compared the status of owner-operators working at the Southern California ports with “serfdom” at a May 5 House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit hearing on the impact of the clean truck programs at the port of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
Nadler wants the legislation included in the next surface transportation bill, and 78 members of Congress signed a letter April 28 supporting the idea.
But Nadler’s bill isn’t ready, and the reversing deregulation hasn’t been endorsed by Rep. James L. Oberstar, D-Mich., chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, nor Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., chair of the highways subcommittee.
The hearing primarily focused on port truck drivers — their hours, their pay, whether they can afford new trucks and potential leasing abuses by motor carriers.
Republicans on the committee opposed changing the law, and questioned whether any change was necessary to implement a successful, long-term clean truck program.
“Reregulating trucking is a solution in pursuit of a problem,” said John J. Duncan, Jr., R-Tenn., the ranking Republican member of the subcommittee.
“It does not make sense to me to discriminate against any individual in this country because they want to be self-employed,” said Gary G. Miller, R-Calif. Both owner-operators and employee-based trucking companies “are meeting the standards,” he said.
Some members of the transportation committee and its highways subcommittee expressed concern over the ramifications of allowing states or jurisdictions within states to regulate what types of trucking business can operate within their boundaries.
“Whatever happens in these ports affects the whole country, including Hawaii,” said Rep. Mazie K. Hirono, D-Hawaii. She noted federal law preempts states from regulating motor carrier rates, routes and services. “I consider that broad preemption language.”
“I’m just wondering whether we can craft that kind of language specifically enough to ensure that the programs do not have unintended consequences to other states,” she said.
“I would like to think that could be done,” said John Holmes, deputy executive director of the Port of Los Angeles. Holmes and other supporters of the LA owner-operator ban said a change in the law is needed to prevent further challenges to clean truck plans.
“I don’t think it takes a rocket science to understand how one could make the argument that ports do not have the authority to ban dirty trucks,” Melissa C. Lin Perrella, a staff attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said at the hearing.
Robert Digges, vice president and general counsel of the American Trucking Associations, said the ban on older diesel equipment itself would likely be protected under California law and the federal Clean Air Act, though “anything can be sued.”
The Port of Los Angeles is enjoined from putting its motor-carrier concession plan, which would effectively ban owner-operators from the port, until a federal court rules on the constitutionality of the concession plan. ATA brought the lawsuit against the port.
“At the present time, we’re in an awkward position with the ATA,” Holmes said when asked whether the port would discuss a compromise with ATA. “I think we’re going to have to let some things work themselves out before we start those discussions.”
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Also, see the May 17 issue of The Journal of Commerce.