1 clean truck program, 2 ports, and now 2 strategies

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A year after the Clean Trucks program began at the harbor complex, the two ports in San Pedro Harbor are headed in divergent directions. The port of Los Angeles continues to fight challenges to pollution controls in court. In Long Beach, harbor commissioners are trying to end the same lawsuit.

Representatives of the trucking lobby say often that they have no problem with the Clean Trucks program. They say they accept the idea that the oldest, dirtiest trucks must stop working the ports, and that new, less-polluting trucks must replace them. The California Trucking Association's Matt Schrap says companies get it. "The question of clean air isn't so much ‘why?’ anymore, it's ‘how?’," he said.

Still, the trucking industry is trying, in court and at a federal commission, to block the legal contracts the ports first chose to enforce environmental and other rules. Schrap says truckers may be more certain about the need to clean up the air, but they're less sure now about the economy, their businesses, the state grant programs funding clean trucks, and pretty much everything. "Over the last 2 years the main thing that's been frustrating to a lot of trucking companies has been the uncertainty surrounding these standards," Schrap said.

Schrap prefers that the industry settle its lawsuit with Long Beach and draw up new contracts. He says the problem with the old agreements is that the port would have reviewed not just companies' safety records, but their financial records too.

The settlement would set limits on what harbor officials could do. Schrap says, "Allowing carriers to enter into these registration agreements without any sort of fear of the port's overstepping their authority is helping our carriers sleep better at night."

Schrap says pollution rules would work as well under the settlement's new agreements as under the old ones. David Petit, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, disagrees. For one thing, he says, the new agreements Long Beach is considering require no truck maintenance standards. "You can have a 2007 truck that's just as dirty if you don't take care of it," Petit says. "Suppose we go down the line a couple years, nobody's maintaining trucks because nobody can afford it. What then? Are we going to do this all over again?"

Petit also argued to commissioners at a Port of Long Beach hearing the other night that the state's environmental quality act requires the city to consider the health and livelihood of the port's neighbors, and hold public hearings about the settlement. Port Commissioner Mario Cordero told fellow commissioners he thinks about the people behind the wheel of trucks at the ports. "I cannot lose sight of that. Because that's where I came from," he said. "I came from an immigrant family, and I came from a hardworking labor father. All of us sit around here, especially on this side of the podium, I suggest we've all done better than our parents. These truck drivers remind me of the strife of the immigrant."

Cordero said the Long Beach harbor commission should let the courts decide which agreements can enforce environmental rules. He stood alone – other commissioners approved the settlement and the new agreements. The Natural Resources Defense Council and a coalition of labor and environment groups have appealed that decision to Long Beach city officials. The city council plans to hear that complaint next month.