Clean Trucks Program sparks ire of truck drivers at LA City Hall

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Trucks drive near City Hall to protest shipping container fees being assessed against independent truckers as part of the ports' Clean Truck Program to allow only newer, less-polluting trucks at the ports, on November 13, 2009 in Los Angeles.

Honking horns in protest over expensive upgrades as part of the Clean Trucks Program, dozens of truckers drove their big rigs today around Los Angeles City Hall.

Starting Jan. 1, trucks with engines built before 1994 will be banned from entering terminals at the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.

Trucks with engines built in 1994-2003 can enter the ports only if retrofitted with a device that reduces emissions by at least 25 percent.

Trucks with engines built in 2004 or later will continue to be allowed at the ports until Jan. 1 -- after which only trucks with engines that meet 2007 Environmental Protection Agency standards will be permitted.

Ellie Bass, whose father has been an independent truck owner-operator for 15 years, joined the protest at City Hall.

She said the plan to phase out older, high-polluting trucks will be devastating to many families if implemented as scheduled.

``In two weeks, all the truckers that have been driving by will be pretty much unemployed, and each trucker has a family they support,'' Bass said.

``We're basically here asking for an extension if not financial help,'' she said. ``We are concerned with the environment, but we don't have the resources to upgrade our trucks or to get new, green trucks.''

Bass asked for funding and/or a two-year extension for truckers to replace or retrofit their vehicles.

Franklin Sanchez, who has been an independent trucker for 15 years and drives a big rig with a 2002 engine, said he cannot afford the required upgrades.

``We will lose our house,'' he said.

Bass said more than 50 truckers drove from the Port of Long Beach starting at 8:30 a.m., circled City Hall at least once, then headed back to the harbor around 11 a.m.

Some truckers went inside City Hall to ask the City Council for help.

Councilwoman Janice Hahn, whose district includes the Port of Los Angeles, said the ban would affect 6,000-8,000 independent truck owner operators.

``What I've done for you is I've called on Mary Nichols, the president of the California Air Resources Board, to ask her to set aside $2 million specifically for you so that if you apply now for that grant, you will be given a four-month extension,'' Hahn told the truckers.

``You can keep working. You can keep driving your trucks. Get those applications in now,'' Hahn said. ``Just by the act of applying for this money, you will be given a four-month extension. I do not want you out of work. This is the worst possible time to be laying off good truckers.''

About 5,600 big rigs have already been replaced by so-called clean trucks, reducing air pollution equivalent to the amount produced by 200,000 cars a year, according to the Port of Long Beach.

Nick Sramek, president of the Board of Harbor Commissioners, said that by Jan. 1, air pollution from trucks at the port will be down 80 percent -- two years ahead of schedule.

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