Congress Sets Harbor Trucking Hearing

Congress Sets Harbor Trucking Hearing

A congressional panel set a hearing for May 5 on proposals to allow the economic regulation of harbor trucking, an issue that has sharply divided shippers and trade groups from a handful of ports and organized labor.

The House Transportation Subcommittee on Highways and Transit is planning a large slate of supporters and opponents to the proposal that would draw new limits on federal preemption of interstate commerce and trucking deregulation.

Port officials in Los Angeles are publicly pushing for the idea, which grew out of attempts to enforce rules for reducing diesel emissions from trucks that shuttle containers in and out of their gates.

Los Angeles hired a lobbying firm headed by former congressman Richard Gephardt to make their case on Capitol Hill and set strategy for a national campaign. A large coalition of trade groups are working in opposition to the plan.

The head of the coalition, Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs policy for the National Retail Federation, said the hearing will be “a good opportunity to get the real story out. The success the ports have had without amending the F4A, without employee mandates.”

Opponents note the Port of Los Angeles clean truck program and the program at the neighboring Port of Long Beach have successfully reduced emissions beyond projections without any changes in the law. But the Los Angeles plan includes provisions amounting to economic regulation of the trucking business, including a requirement that port drivers be employees of companies with harbor concessions, which are strongly supported by organized labor.

California House members have circulated letters in support of the ports. Recently Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y, won wider support in the House with his own letter.

“It’s easy for members to sign on to a 'Dear Colleague' letter. It’s different when you actually have to vote on legislation,” Gold said. He said that a recent letter that opposes the change was circulated by Rep. Gary Miller, R-Calif.

The letters are intended to influence Rep. James L. Oberstar, D-Minn., chairman of the transportation committee. They ask that the change to allow local trucking jurisdiction be added to Oberstar’s multi-year surface transportation bill. The bill is still pending in the committee.

Oberstar has not taken a position on the issue. “We’re glad Chairman Oberstar has not decided to move on anything before having a hearing on it first. The hearing is the result of him hearing from both sides, and wanting to get the story out,” Gold said.

Gold said the committee planned to hold the hearing earlier, but postponed it to May 5, after a U.S. District Court in Los Angeles hears testimony on April 20 in a case brought by the American Trucking Associations against the port of Los Angeles that opposes portions of the port’s clean truck program that bans independent truckers from the port.

Contact R.G. Edmonson at bedmonson@joc.com.