A $2 million grant awarded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will enable the Port of New York and New Jersey to remove 150 aging and polluting trucks from the port — even as federal funding that could take 550 vehicles off the road is still stalled.
The drive to remove old drayage trucks from the port is a key plank in the authority’s effort to reduce pollution in the port and the communities around it, as cargo volumes increase along with the number of ships and trucks serving the port. Other anti-pollution measures enacted in the port include greater use of electric equipment, an emphasis on moving containers by train and barge, instead of truck, and plans to power ships stopped at the port with land-based electrical sources, rather than their own engines.
The EPA’s $2 million grant awarded to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey last week will revive a program — which has been dormant since it ran out of money a year ago — that pays the owners of trucks with aging engines up to $25,000 to replace them with 2007-or-newer engines. The grant will be added to another $1.75 million previously awarded by the agency and will enable the authority to remove all trucks with engines made in 1994 and 1995 from the port and some from 1996.
The truck replacement initiative ground to a halt because it was unable to use three grants totaling $13.7 million awarded for truck replacement under the federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement fund. The replacement effort could not meet federal requirements that grant recipients abide by the “Buy America” presidential executive order, which requires that the money be spent on predominantly American-made vehicles.
“It is impossible to find an American-made truck that meets the Buy America requirements,” said Beth Rooney, assistant director of the authority’s port division. She said the EPA grants are not covered by the requirements.
The “Buy America” mandate seeks to promote employment and stimulate the US economy by requiring that the federal government, through procurement and grants, buy goods made in the United States. The port authority said the rule mandates that “100 percent of all steel and iron incorporated into the vehicle be US-manufactured,” which rules out most — if not all — new and used trucks.
Rooney said the authority and federal legislators have pushed the US Secretary of Transportation vigorously to secure a waiver from the Buy America requirements. But they have been stymied by an April 2017 White House executive order that made it more difficult to secure such waivers, Rooney said.
Another executive order, signed Jan. 3, appears to expand the list or products covered by the Buy America rules, suggesting that the waiver may get more difficult to obtain, Rooney said.
In 2017, the last year in which the truck replacement program operated, 200 trucks were taken off the road. About 9,200 trucks regularly serve the port.
The decade-old truck replacement program took on added importance in January 2016 when the authority abandoned a plan to ban trucks older than 2007 from the port in favor of emphasizing an existing program that provides a financial incentive to the owners of older trucks to replace them with newer vehicles. The grant, to a maximum of $25,000, can equal up to 50 percent of the cost of the replacement truck, which must have an engine aged 2010 or younger and be used to serve the port for five years. The authority also banned all trucks with engines dated 1994 and 1995.
The authority’s change of direction came after truckers vigorously opposed the ban, saying the removal of 6,642 pre-2007 trucks would result in a “portwide shutdown.” But the reversal angered environmentalists and other stakeholders. Two years later, two lawmakers — US Rep. Donald Payne, D-N.J., and Rep. Albio Sires, D-N.J. — whose districts include marine terminals in Elizabeth, Newark, or Bayonne, urged New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy in a Feb. 26 letter to reconsider the decision to abandon the plan. That prompted pushback from port trucker groups and the New York Shipping Association, and the policy has yet to change.