Dirty Air

Copyright 2007, Traffic World, Inc.

There is a lot at stake for the transportation industry in the battle over port pollution in Southern California, but what shouldn''t be at stake is actually reducing the pollution at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

That''s the issue that''s getting muddied by the ports'' expansive Clean Air Action Plan, a detailed roadmap for reducing pollutants at the ports, and by the trucking industry''s response to the plan. The plan is so ambitious that it goes beyond the engines and diesel fuel of the vehicles to the very nature of the businesses that operate at the country''s busiest ports.

The ramifications go well beyond the communities surrounding these busy ports because the antipollution plan itself will almost certainly be considered a template for other antipollution efforts that will follow in its wake.

The Clean Air Plan is aimed at reducing particulate matter pollution by 47 percent over five years and sharply curtailing nitrogen oxide and sulfur oxide emissions. Within that, however, is a proposal that would exact more control over some 15,000 drayage drivers who work the ports by requiring that truckers operating through the gates be employed by companies licensed to operate there.

That''s drawn in organized labor, which senses an opportunity, and protests from truckers that their livelihoods are under assault. But the trucking industry needs to take a cue from the ports themselves and come up with ways of addressing the very real concerns over pollution around facilities that handled some 15.7 million TEUs in container traffic last year.

The trucking industry needs to find a way to embrace the plan because it is not going away any more than the container traffic in Southern California will flee.

After all, containers are not pouring into the ports because the facilities themselves are easy to deal with. In fact, with the history of labor troubles, epic congestion on the docks and infamous backups on the roads in Southern California, it''s a wonder container lines aren''t redrawing their maps right now for Tacoma, Houston and Savannah.

The containers are flowing into California because the state in 2005 ranked as the world''s eighth-largest economy, according to the World Bank, with a $1.6 trillion gross state product that put it just behind Italy and $500 billion or so ahead of Spain and Canada.

That''s why Nike ships through there, not because of PierPass.

Opponents of the plan may have one important argument in the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution, and they were bolstered in that argument in California recently in, of all things, an environmental case.

A federal judge there ruled the state does not have the authority to regulate emissions from rail locomotives, a victory for the BNSF Railway in a case against the South Coast Air Quality Management District''s attempt to limit locomotive idling times. But BNSF then immediately announced a series of "green" initiatives, including plans to cut the idle times for its locomotives that were at stake in the court case.

BNSF isn''t forecasting a slowdown in traffic because of its plans, and trucking companies shouldn''t expect one either.

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