Long Beach port executive says settlement won't wreck environmental enforcement

The Port of Long Beach's Alex Cherin says the settlement won't compromise efforts to reduce air pollution from old, dirty diesel trucks at the harbor.
The Port of Long Beach's Alex Cherin says the settlement won't compromise efforts to reduce air pollution from old, dirty diesel trucks at the harbor.
Courtesy Port of Long Beach

The Port of Long Beach and the trucking industry say they're ready to settle a year-old lawsuit over portions of the Clean Trucks program.

The American Trucking Association has argued that the ports lack authority to enforce agreements on the Clean Trucks program. The court case has moved forward slowly. So has the Clean Air Action Plan, of which the trucks program is a part.

Alex Cherin manages trade relations and operations for the Port of Long Beach. He says his port and the industry always agreed that banning older dirtier trucks to clean up air at the port is a good idea.

"The ATA never opposed the progressive ban. They certainly never opposed the environmental regulations," he says. "We got to a point in reading the judge's preliminary opinions and in discussing the issue with our board that we were able to get ourselves out of the lawsuit and still preserve the core principles of the plan."

Cherin says Long Beach and trucking companies will now sign new, less onerous agreements – enforcement, he says, will work the same as before. The move leaves the Port of Los Angeles alone in court with the trucking industry.

L.A. and the Natural Resources Defense Council are still arguing that ports can require companies to employ drivers at a living wage instead of contracting with them. Cherin doesn't deny the settlement Long Beach made will keep it competitive with L.A. and other ports in a market tightened by the global economic downturn.

"We have no reservations about reminding them that we're a competitor," he says, "and if that means that we take volume away from Los Angeles or from Seattle/Tacoma or any other friendly competitor, then that's fine with us as long as it's done above board, which this is, and we're not compromising our environmental obligations, which we're not."

Earlier this month, on the Clean Trucks program's first birthday, environmental and labor groups, federal and local officials, all said air at the harbor is getting cleaner ahead of schedule.

But Natural Resources Defense Council attorney David Petit had harsh words for the settlement on his blog, saying the Port of Long Beach "sold out" the residents of that city. "It is unheard of, and illegal, for a governmental entity to give away its police powers – its basic powers to protect its residents against harm," Petit wrote. "[B]ut that is just what Long Beach has done when it comes to the port-serving trucks that drive through the streets of the city."

Petit pointed out that port officials who will enforce the new agreements have limited powers to punish motor carriers who misrepresent the cleanliness of their trucks.

According to the Port of Long Beach, most trucks serving the port will be clean trucks by the end of the year.