There’s been no shortage of argument and legal battling over the clean-trucks programs at Southern California’s ports, but there’s no dispute that the program has worked remarkably well, achieving initial goals for emissions reductions two years ahead of schedule. Importers that endorsed the effort several years ago are convinced they played an important part in that success.
The shippers, many of them retailers importing merchandise from Asia, defied conventional wisdom in 2007 when they formed the Coalition for Responsible Transportation and announced support for the Los Angeles-Long Beach Clean Air Action Plan and its clean-trucks component. The group has since expanded its program to Oakland, Seattle-Tacoma and New York-New Jersey and is looking to broaden the effort.
The coalition recently began working with container ports in the Southeast to implement and, in some cases, help design, clean-trucks programs.
Elena Craft, a toxicologist in Houston with the Environmental Defense Fund, which is teaming up with the coalition in the Southeast, calls the region the “land of opportunity,” because its ports are growing rapidly and it offers great possibilities for emissions reductions.
Ports from Virginia to Florida are at varying stages of addressing air pollution, Craft said. The Virginia ports, for example, have been engaged in a clean-trucks effort for three years, while some ports “don’t even have an environmental coordinator,” she said.
And attitudes about environmental regulation differ around the country. On the West Coast, for example, it’s acceptable for a port or a state regulatory agency to ban old trucks. James Jack, executive director of the coalition, said the group has found “not every port has the political appetite for truck bans.”
In some ports, clean-trucks programs must be voluntary. The success of a voluntary program usually depends on some type of subsidy. In Houston, Craft said, the Environmental Defense Fund worked with local, state and federal interests to develop a program of subsidies and low-interest loans. That program now boasts one of the largest combinations of public and private subsidies in the country.
The economic component has important implications for costs across the supply chain, and that’s where the coalition’s support for the Southern California plan was critical. Its contribution came in agreeing to pay higher rates for drayage service at the nation’s largest port complex. “This was revolutionary,” Jack said. “The feeling was that anything costing industry money would result in a knee-jerk reaction of ‘no.’ ”
Motor carriers serving container ports around the country are overwhelmingly small businesses with limited resources, and the owner-operator drivers they contract with are even more financially challenged. That’s been one of the main problems in replacing drayage fleets from California to New York.
Under the terms of the Southern California ports’ clean-trucks programs, harbor drayage companies within five years had to phase out more than 10,000 old, polluting trucks and replace them with new vehicles that meet the federal Environmental Protection Agency standards for 2007-model trucks. Each truck costs about $100,000.
The coalition’s plan is for each member to meet with its provider of drayage services and negotiate a rate that would allow the motor carrier and drivers to finance the purchase of new trucks.
For instance, depending on the age of the scrapped truck and the cost of the new vehicle, a trucker can obtain a subsidy of $50,000 or more from a Texas emissions reduction program to cover part of the cost of the new truck and a low-interest loan under the federal Diesel Emissions Reduction Act to cover the rest, Craft said.
At Charleston, S.C., where the coalition is launching its clean-trucks effort in the Southeast, the coalition will work with the South Carolina State Ports Authority and the Environmental Defense Fund on a program that could include financial incentives to scrap old trucks and low-interest loans to buy new trucks.
Coalition members, which include some of the nation’s largest retailers, will do their part by negotiating higher freight rates with motor carriers and emphasizing to local interests that implementation of a clean-trucks plan will not put the port at a competitive disadvantage, Jack said.
“They do not have to choose between clean air and cargo,” he said. That’s critical for retailers that have larger corporate imperatives calling for reduced pollution and a lower carbon footprint in their operations, including the operations of service providers, Jack said.
The coalition has stayed out of the debate, and litigation, involving the American Trucking Associations, the Port of Los Angeles and the Natural Resources Defense Council. That legal fight involves port concession requirements, including a provision mandating employee drivers at drayage companies. The employee-driver provision would make it easier for the Teamsters union to organize the drivers.
Even in this politically charged issue, the NRDC commends the coalition’s efforts. “Anything that helps to clean up the air is good,” said David Pettit, director of the Southern California Air Project. The NRDC, however, favors a concession regime that drives faster implementation of clean-air measures, and would have trucking companies, rather than drivers, pay the cost of buying and maintaining the trucks, he said.
The Teamsters union believes the drivers are the forgotten party in models such as the one promoted by the coalition. “The fact is, nearly a dozen economic and academic studies prove workers behind the wheel earn poverty wages and simply cannot afford to buy and properly maintain clean trucks,” said TJ Michels, a spokeswoman for Change to Win, the union federation that includes the Teamsters.
The Coalition for Responsible Transportation model also perpetuates what the union believes is the misclassification of drivers as independent contractors when they are really employees, Michels said.
On the national scene, the coalition is involved in a project with the EPA to modify the pollution-reduction program for long-haul trucking known as SmartWay to include a component for harbor trucking. If the effort is successful, ports will have access to a single, national standard for grading the effectiveness of pollution-reduction measures for harbor trucking, Jack said.
Contact Bill Mongelluzzo at firstname.lastname@example.org.