An industry coalition has upped the ante in the debate over how best to clean the air above Southern California ports.
Retailer Target Corp., ocean carrier NYK Line and drayage trucking company Total Transportation Services are putting together a fleet of low-polluting trucks that run on liquefied natural gas. The fleet of 100 trucks will be leased to owner-operators and managed by TTS, which would inspect the trucks monthly to ensure they meet emissions standards and are well maintained.
The coalition will buy 20 of the LNG trucks, while the South Coast Air Quality Management District will supply 80.
The retailer and carriers are holding the fleet up as a model for a cleaner harbor trucking industry. But it's not quite the same model proposed by the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
The Clean Air Action Plan the ports proposed earlier this year would require any trucks entering port property to be low-polluting, licensed by the ports and driven by trucking company employees - owner-operators would be excluded.
The LNG trucks would certainly meet the emissions requirements. New generation LNG vehicles produce an estimated 80 to 90 percent less particulate matter and nitrogen oxide emissions compared to existing older diesel trucks, according to the ports.
But the ports' preference for employee drivers is a stumbling block. The trucking industry has vowed to fight the plan in court if it orders the use of only company employees.
The ports in July extended a deadline for public comment on their truck replacement program. However, they said they still want the entire plan to go into effect in January 2008. The ports plan to present a comprehensive proposal to their commissioners later this month, following completion of an economic impact study.
LNG trucks also are part of the ports' clean air plan. In their proposal, the ports said they would allocate $16 million to help carriers convert a portion of the diesel truck fleet to LNG. SCAQMD agreed to provide $6 million in funding.
The ports canceled their original plans for LNG trucks last month and released a modified request for proposal.
"At a minimum, the program will include the original $16 million contribution from the ports," the ports said. "However, based on the number of proposals received, the ports may increase the total amount of funding available."
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said the new LNG fleet is just the first step toward replacing an estimated 16,000 diesel trucks now hauling containers around the ports.
"We commend these companies for taking a pioneering role in the effort to expand the variety of clean, alternative fuels in use," Villaraigosa said at a press conference. "The experimental deployment of LNG trucks at the port is a great example for other corporations to follow, and it will help us better understand the capabilities of this clean-burning fuel."
However, there's a big gap between the experimental fleet and the total harbor truck population in the Los Angeles-Long Beach area.
"One hundred trucks is a good start, but we've still got nearly 16,000 trucks to go before we can consider the mission accomplished."