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Oct 012009

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Los Angeles’ program to reduce trucking pollution is working faster than planned, but it has come under attack by the trucking industry.

Today, the city celebrates the one-year anniversary of the  Clean Truck Program (CTP), which has taken more than 2,000 polluting trucks off the road and helped placed more than 5,500 clean vehicles into service. The changes mean that ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are now two years ahead of schedule in their master plan to reduce shipping truck emissions by 80 percent. The two ports have collaborated to reduce air pollution from both trucks and ships using the hubs.

Clean Truck

Photo: Port of Los Angeles

“Los Angeles is home to the worst air pollution in the country, which plays a role in thousands of heart attacks, respiratory ailments and deaths every year,” said David Pettit, senior attorney with Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), in a statement. “Knowing those statistics, the Port of Los Angeles decided to take proactive and permanent action to reduce those deaths and invest in sustainable jobs at the ports.”

But, like so many air cleansing efforts, this one faces opposition from the polluters, who until recently hadn’t been asked to pony up for their effects on the environment. The American Trucking Association is fighting the program, arguing that it costs too much and will put independent truckers out of business. The ATA also opposes pending climate legislation in Congress as too costly.

It’s not cheap to clean up “dirty trucks” and replace them with retrofitted or new cleaner operating  diesels or biofuel vehicles.

The CTP is spending an estimated $1.6 billion to replace an aging fleet of 17,000 trucks with newer, cleaner vehicles at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach before 2012. So last February, the port authorities began collecting a $35 container fee (applied to each 20-foot container) to help offset the purchase the clean trucks.

The ports have reported that the fund created by the $35 fees will allow them to subsidize up to 80 percent of each new truck.

The ATA sued, citing a federal law (the Federal Aviation Admnistration Authorization Act – FAAAA) that prevents the local authorities from asking the trucking companies to meet environmental standards set by local authorities.

Environmentalists and local proponents of the Clean Truck Program say the suit has put the Clean Trucks Program, which they consider a model for other ports, in jeopardy.

But the Truck Association says the program puts an unfair burden on trucking companies .

The ports, the NRDC, Sierra Club and the Coalition for Clean Air are fighting the  ATA’s lawsuit. The groups also are working with federal legislators to update the FAAAA law  so that it would allow the Clean Truck Program to go forward.

Sustainability and clean air advocates have lavished praise on the ambitious truck clean-up program, which they believe will help reduce asthma and other respiratory-related ailments from air polllution.

The Bay Area, which has plans for a similar program at the Oakland port, is watching developments in LA closely.

“Congratulations to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, environmentalists, port truck drivers and residents for leading the way to green growth at our nation’s ports. Nearly 6,000 clean trucks put into service, and 2,000 dirty trucks off the roads in the blink of an eye. It’s simply awe-inspiring,” said Nikki Bas, Executive Director of the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy in a news release Thursday.

Bas continued:  “California’s port officials must be able to finish the job they set out to do. Oakland’s port clean-up efforts to get roughly 2,300 polluting rigs off the roads came to a grinding halt when the ‘profits before people’ mindset of the American Trucking Association obstructed LA’s continued emissions-reduction progress in court. The Clean Truck Program is legally sound but this devastating development has put the Port of Oakland’s plans on hold.

“In the meantime, the cost to our health and our pocketbooks skyrocket because the industry refuses to take responsibility for cleaning up its dirty air…”

The debate walks a more delicate line with workers. The ATA argues that truck drivers are being burdened. But the groups favoring continuation of the Clean Truck Program say that drivers are only unduly affected if industry refuses to pay for their air pollution.

County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, Executive Secretary-Treasurer Maria Elena Durazo issued a statement supporting the Clean Truck Program, and blamed the trucking industry for paying for the costs of clean trucking by keeping down the wages of contract drivers.

“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. These drivers eke out a living on $10-11 an hour and cannot afford the proper upkeep and maintenance of these clean-technology vehicles,” Durazo said.

The CTP is part of a larger Clean Air Action Plan devised by the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to expand business operations and reduce air pollution. The ports plan to expand over the coming years.

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