The American Trucking Associations is expected to fight the landmark "Clean Truck Program" approved last week by the Los Angeles Harbor Commission.
Trucks enter terminal gates at Port of Los Angeles
Trucks enter terminal gates at Port of Los Angeles

One of the controversial parts of the plan is that the port is not only trying to accelerate the replacement of high-polluting trucks with cleaner trucks, but also create a "capitalized, asset-based" drayage system. In other words, instead of the longtime practice of using owner-operators to haul containers in and out of the port, the plan will require shippers to buy and maintain a modern fleet of trucks and make the truck drivers employees rather than independent contractors.

Environmental groups and the Teamsters union applauded the move, including the Coalition for Clean & Safe Ports, an alliance of more than 30 organizations, including environmental groups, public health advocates and labor unions.

However, the American Trucking Associations has said the plan is little more than a scheme to unionize port drivers and will likely sue. The ATA's Intermodal Motor Carriers Conference already has filed comments with the Federal Maritime Commission to stop both the LA plan and the plan of the Port of Long Beach, which backed off of the idea of requiring employee drivers. ATA believes both plans violate federal law pre-empting local regulation of the routes and services of licensed motor carriers.

The port says the clean truck program is designed to "encourage an evolution of the Port drayage market towards an asset-based system in which Licensed Motor Carriers enter into drayage concession agreements with the Port and are responsible for owning and maintaining the truck assets used to perform drayage services at the Port under the concession." Port of Los Angeles drayage concessionaires must also commit to using employee drivers for Port drayage by year 2012 through a phased-in schedule, with flexibility afforded for peaks and troughs in demand by use of temporary or part-time employees.

A Port of Los Angeles release notes that "pollution from the truck fleet serving the San Pedro Bay ports contributes to hundreds of premature deaths annually in Southern California, with the public paying between $100 million and $590 million annually in health impact costs alone, according to the California Air Resources Board. The present system of LMCs and low-wage, paid-by-the-load independent truck owner-operators provides no incentive for improving efficiency and no financial means to replace the existing truck fleet with cleaner, more efficient trucks."

In November 2007, both the Los Angeles and Long Beach Boards of Harbor Commissioners approved a "progressive dirty truck ban" schedule. Starting Oct. 1, all pre-1989 trucks will be prohibited from working in port drayage. By Jan. 1, 2012, all drayage trucks operating in the port complex will be required to meet 2007 federal emission standards, which will reduce port related truck pollution by an estimated 80 percent.

Both port commissions approved cargo fee tariffs to accelerate the replacement of the existing truck fleet by assessing a $35 gate fee per 20-foot container unit (TEU) to generate funds to help underwrite the replacement of the existing truck fleet.