The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit has agreed to expedite a hearing in the American Trucking Associations' lawsuit against certain parts of the Port of Los Angeles' Clean Truck Program.

The 9th Circuit last month originally turned down ATA's request for an expedited hearing on the grounds that a preliminary injunction already in place would prohibit the port from implementing its program until the case is decided. However, according to published reports, over the weekend the appellate court agreed to move forward at least the filing of the briefs.

The ATA now has until Dec. 28 to file its opening brief in the case. Answering briefs must by filed by Jan. 31, and an optional reply from ATA would be due within 14 days. However, it's still not certain when oral arguments will be heard.

One of the key issues ATA is contesting is the port's plan to ban the use of independent contractor truckers. The port had planned to require drayage companies to convert to an all employee workforce over three years: 20 percent by the end of next year, 66 percent by the end of 2012 and 100 percent by the end of 2013. Right now approximately 90 percent of drivers working at the port are independents.

ATA had claimed irreparable harm to its members who would have had to begin hiring drivers next year in order to meet the port's Dec. 31, 2011 deadline to begin phasing in employee drivers.

The port's Clean Truck Program has by all accounts done a good job of improving air quality in and around the port, the employee requirement is a matter of deep concern to trucking and shipping interests not just in California but around the country. It alarms carriers and shippers because it would open the door for unionization of port drivers.