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Trucking Group Sues to Stop Port 'Clean Truck' Plan

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A national trucking trade group has sued the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles over the harbors' Clean Trucks program. KPCC's Molly Peterson reports.

Molly Peterson: The American Trucking Association says it has no problem with rules that kick older dirty diesel trucks out of ports. But the ATA says the ports are trying to do more than that. The group's Curtis Whalen says the ports are forcing trucking companies to sign "concession agreements" that include other rules for anyone who wants to haul cargo to and from the ports. Whalen says those agreements will affect interstate commerce, and the ports can't do that.

Curtis Whalen: The concession agreements themselves are designed to limit the number of trucking companies that can participate in port drayage, thereby reducing competition.

Peterson: On top of that, truck companies now contract with 17,000 independent drivers to move goods, but new Port of L.A. rules will require those drivers to be employees, so that companies pay the cost of clean trucks. Long Beach isn't requiring that. Curtis Whalen says you can't have different rules at different ports.

Whalen: We often don't know which port or which terminal or which pier we're picking up containers. And we certainly often do not know where they are taken back. So you might have a truck driver who is, let's say, a non-employee, that of all of the sudden has to take a container back to an L.A. facility, isn't empty, and can't get in there, so then they have to go over and pick up a qualifying driver. The logistical moves that go on in the business are just very, very complicated.

Peterson: L.A. and Long Beach harbor managers say their plans are legal, and they'll defend them in court. The Natural Resources Defense Council and other environmental and community groups say they plan to fight the ATA too. NRDC's David Petit says the ports are acting as landlords, and landlords can control who comes on their land, and how.

David Petit: If you own an apartment building, you can decide not to rent to drug dealers. And that's because you own the building, and you can decide who to rent to and who not to. The ports own the property, and they can decide that a certain class of old, stinking, dangerous trucks can't be driven on their property.

Peterson: The Clean Truck rules are slated to take effect October 1st; the trucking group says it will ask a federal judge to delay that until the lawsuit's done. Last month, a federal commission declined to block the program, ruling it wouldn't interfere with trucking competition. But NRDC's David Petit says the trucker's lawsuit could interfere with port expansion.

Petit: People are saying that business at the ports will triple in the next 20 years; if we don't have a truck plan that's going to help clean up the air, that's just not going to happen.

Peterson: Petit says that's because the NRDC and other groups will fight to limit port traffic and the pollution it already makes.