Copyright 2008, Traffic World, Inc.
A?federal judge won''t rule before next year on a Federal Maritime Commission request to block parts of the clean-trucks program at Southern California''s ports, effectively keeping the plans and their controversial provisions in place.
U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon dashed the hopes of attorneys for the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and the FMC for an early signal on whether federal regulators have a role in overseeing an environmental program that is already under way at the nation''s two largest ports.
The judge instead gave attorneys until Dec. 17 to file responses to legal arguments at a hearing on the FMC''s request for a preliminary injunction against some portions of the plans.
"It''s not an easy issue," Leon said, noting he also is handling pressing cases involving detainees at Guantanamo Bay and the Federal National Mortgage Association. "There is a lot of complexity to it." There is "no chance," he said, he would rule before the end of this year on the FMC''s request to block the provisions.
Meanwhile, a coalition of environmental, labor and community groups in California groups called on the FMC to drop the case. The Coalition for Clean & Safe Ports is calling on Democrats in Congress to help appoint new FMC commissioners "that share President-elect Barack Obama''s commitment" to the clean-trucks program.
The FMC, claiming irreparable harm to the shipping public, wants to block Los Angeles from mandating that only employee-drivers of certified motor carriers can serve the port and wants to stop financial incentives, including aid for truck purchases and exemptions for some truckers at the ports.
The ports have delayed collection of a $35 per-container charge from drivers of trucks built before 2007 until Dec. 17 but FMC attorney Benjamin J. Trogdon told the court the truckers already are seeing the impact on competition and he said costs to shippers will rise.
"The shippers have begun to shift, to look for operators that have the compliant trucks," he said. Since parts of the plan went into effect this fall, he said, "there has been evidence of irreparable harm to the country in that period of time" as shippers anticipate the fees.
But attorney Steven Rosenthal, arguing for the city and the Port of Los Angeles, said there was no evidence of a change in the marketplace or in competition at a port complex he said was served by 800 to 1,300 truckers each day.
"The train and its environmental benefits and its security benefits have literally left the station," Rosenthal said. "It''s been two months and there have been no problems, no evidence of people going out of business, no parade of horribles. Life is proceeding normally."
"And the environment is getting cleaner," the judge added.
Separately, terminal operators at Los Angeles and Long Beach are asking the Federal Maritime Commission to review a staff decision that delays the start of the port services fee program until Dec. 17.
The FMC is soliciting public comment on the petition until Dec. 15.