On the first anniversary of the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach Clean Truck Programs Thursday, several environmental and political groups took the opportunity to not only celebrate the programs' success, but to also point fingers at the American Trucking Associations, claiming the group is preventing further progress.

"On a day we should be celebrating, we condemn the legal attacks by the American Trucking Association
[sic], the Virginia-based industry lobby that threw a wrench into the LA program before it was fully implemented, when it sued the port," said Michael Green, executive director of the Center for Environmental Health, in a statement. "This threatens to stall or reverse the emissions reductions achieved and prevent effective clean-air plans from being enacted at polluting trade hubs around the country."

Organizations such as the Center for Environmental Health issued press releases Thursday, making similar arguments against the ATA.

But the trucking group is fighting back.

"Blatant Falsehoods"

"The press releases contain blatant falsehoods about the Clean Trucks Program in the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and the American Trucking Associations' support of those programs," the ATA said in a press release. "The ATA has supported the Clean Trucks Program in both ports and its members have helped the ports replace older trucks with newer, cleaner trucks at a rate that is well ahead of schedule."

In fact, the ports announced Thursday that the programs are on track to reduce truck-related emissions by 80 percent, two years ahead of schedule. Since inception, the programs have purged the roads of more than 2,000 polluting trucks, with more than 5,500 clean trucks in operation today.

"Thanks to an unexpectedly rapid turnover of vehicles as truck owners moved quickly to comply with looming deadlines, the program will prompt a near-complete conversion to cleaner trucks by the next 'ban' deadline, Jan. 1, 2010," according to the Port of Long Beach.

The ports have reached these clean air goals even while barred from using several tactics that the trucking industry has fought as anti-competitive. As part of its Clean Truck Program, the Port of Los Angeles sought to ban owner-operators, with the rationale that these drivers are too poor to afford lower-emissions trucks. However, the ATA has been challenging this in court, seeking an injunction to block the owner-operator ban and other concession requirements. According to ATA spokesman Clayton Boyce, the concessions have nothing to do with cleaning the air, and the ATA believes they violate the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act, which prohibits states and local governments from regulating the trucking industry.

In April, a court judge granted the ATA a temporary injunction against the ban on owner-operators. A request for a permanent injunction will be heard in December.

Owner-operators and Clean Air?

"A backwards-looking industry lobby has sued to block this pollution-fighting plan, creating a murky legal environment that has allowed unscrupulous employers to put the burden for truck leases back on their impoverished immigrant contract drivers," said Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, in a statement. "These drivers eke out a living on $10-11 an hour and cannot afford the proper upkeep and maintenance of these clean-technology vehicles."

"Cleaning up the air has nothing to do with who drives the truck," Boyce said, in response. "What cleans up the air is banning older trucks."

Boyce says the ATA has fully supported that part of the ports' Clean Truck Programs, but not the part that excludes independent contractors. He says the ATA's efforts are not going to change the ports' ability to clean up the air.

"Their [the ATA's] lawsuit against the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach threaten further emissions reduction achievements and is designed to deter other major American ports from setting real operational standards to rein in pollution," said Amy Goldsmith, executive director of the New Jersey Environmental Federation, in another statement. Ports in New Jersey as well the Pacific Northwest have been looking into similar measures to address pollution in their areas. The Port of Oakland has already passed a ban on polluting trucks.

"That's absolutely not true," Boyce said.

Like the Port of Los Angeles, other ports want to be able to restrict owner-operators, as well. They have taken action to urge Congress to intercede and change the FAAAA, so they can regulate trucking at the ports, giving them the authority to restrict owner-operators. According to Boyce, the ports are doing this in the name of the environment. "That is a huge lie," he says.

"The union-led effort uses a campaign for clean air as a cover for an all-out effort to destroy small independent businesses owned by independent truck owner-operators and replace them with larger trucking companies whose employees can be more easily organized by the Teamsters," Boyce says.

To learn more

* To read the ATA's response, click here.

* Read Heavy Duty Trucking Editor Deborah Lockridge's May 2009 editorial on this topic, "Clearing the Air."

* " Judge Blocks Challenged Elements of Port Clean Trucks Programs," 5/1/09