Federal judges to rule on truck regulations at Port of Los Angeles

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Trucks are driven near the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, the busiest port complex in the US, on September near Long Beach, California.

A three-judge panel of the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will decide whether the Port of Los Angeles can limit the kind of trucks that serve the harbor complex.

The port's Clean Trucks Program aims to cut pollution from older, dirtier diesel trucks by slowly phasing them out in favor of cleaner-burning ones. Los Angeles harbor officials also decided that all trucking companies should hire their drivers as employees.

The American Trucking Association challenged that program in court. The trucking lobby argues that L.A. is overreaching its authority over companies in a deregulated industry. Environmental groups and the Port of Los Angeles countered in court Friday that the port participates in a market for trucking services.

Natural Resources Defense Council's Melissa Lin Perella argues, in that case, the port can set standards for the services it wants, "and it has that authority because it is a landlord and it is a proprietor in the marketplace, and that is running a business, and for these reasons the port should be able to do what it needs to do to fulfill its commercial interests."

Questions from the bench focused on the extent of that authority; a lawyer for the trucking industry argued that it's narrow. Observers expect the appeals court decision later this year. Until that ruling's final, the Port of L.A. will not enforce its requirement that trucking companies must employ their drivers.

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