Ports Gain Clean-Truck Visiblity

Although the trucking industry and environmental interests are claiming victory following a federal court of appeals prohibiting the Port of Los Angeles from banning owner-operator drivers, the real victory belongs to port communities nationwide.

Port authorities should have no question now about their ability to implement clean-truck programs that reduce harmful diesel pollution, as long as the plans do not contain provisions that violate federal preemption laws.

The three-judge panel ruled unanimously Monday that the Port of Los Angeles can not mandate the use of employee drivers. Los Angeles, a labor-friendly city, considered the employee-driver mandate to be the core provision in the clean-truck program because it would have made it easier, and legal, for the Teamsters union to organize the owner-operators in the harbor.

Two of the three judges upheld other concession provisions in the clean-truck plan dealing with truck parking, proof of financial capability, maintenance provisions and placard requirements that were judged to be responsive to safety and emissions control.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said the appellate court’s ruling will ensure that harbor trucking companies will be required to maintain a clean fleet, which is the overall goal of the clean-truck plan. “The clean-truck program has played a major role in helping to reduce vehicle emissions by almost 90 percent compared to 2005 and has become a model for other ports around he country,” Villaraigosa said.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, which intervened in the American Trucking Associations’ suit challenging the Los Angeles clean-truck concession requirements, said the program has already produced a dramatic reduction in harmful diesel emissions. “The health and environmental benefits we’ve fought for remain in place today. Now we have to make certain the Port of Los Angeles enforces them,” said David Pettit, director of the NRDC’s Southern California Clean Air Program.

The city and the NRDC expressed disappointment over the court’s ruling striking down the employee-driver mandate. However, Bill Graves, president and CEO of the ATA, said that by striking down the employee-driver mandate, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit “upheld the rights of trucking companies to structure their businesses to maximize efficiency and productivity.”

Graves charged that the Los Angeles ban on owner-operators was more about labor organizing than clean air. “Successful clean-trucks plans in Long Beach, Seattle and the Port of New York and New Jersey have shown you can improve air quality without forcing owner-operators out of your port,” Graves said.

-- Contact Bill Mongelluzzo at bmongelluzzo@joc.com. Follow him on Twitter @billmongelluzzo.

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