Bill introduced to empower ports in clean-truck fight

Bill introduced to empower ports in clean-truck fight

A bill just introduced in Congress would give federal approval to local cities and ports to enact their own clean-truck programs, similar to what the Port of Los Angeles has done. The idea of regulating the air around ports, though, has the port community split.

A bill just introduced in Congress would give federal approval to local cities and ports to enact their own clean-truck programs, similar to what the Port of Los Angeles has done. The idea of regulating the air around ports, though, has the port community split.

“[The American Assn. of Port Authorities (AAPA)] supports port activities to improve the environment and reduce the environmental impacts of port operations,” Aaron Ellis, spokesman for AAPA told Fleet Owner. “Activities undertaken by port authorities vary and should be tailored to address regional environmental issues. As part of these efforts, a number of ports are successfully implementing clean-truck programs to reduce truck emissions in port communities.”

AAPA represents many of the ports across the country. Ellis said there is enough evidence so far that the AAPA’s Legislative Policy Council believes current clean air programs are working.

“Early indications show that these programs can be highly successful, and they are evidence that seaports are currently able to address environmental, security and congestion issues through a variety of mechanisms including use of tariff provisions, truck registration programs, and/or concession agreements or other means,” he said.

Crafted by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the Clean Ports Act of 2010 (H.R. 5967), which has widespread Democratic support in the House with 57 co-sponsors, would amend the Federal Motor Carrier Act to allow individual ports to enact and enforce clean-truck programs beyond current federal guidelines. The bill has been referred to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

“With trucking a ubiquitous and central part of goods distribution nationwide, we must ensure that the government is doing everything in its power to decrease vehicle emissions and minimize pollution in and around our ports,” said Rep. Nadler in a news release. “The Clean Ports Act will update federal environmental law to allow forward-thinking ports, like the Port of Los Angeles, to implement clean truck programs that will improve the air, empower truckers, and reduce the incidence of illnesses exacerbated by pollution. The movement supporting this legislation represents a truly diverse swathe of American labor, business, environmental organizations, consumer groups, and others working toward the common goal of greener ports.”

The Port of Los Angeles, citing pending litigation with the American Trucking Assns. (ATA), declined comment on the bill, offering only a brief statement: “The Port continues to implement our program in accordance with the law,” it read. “We have previously stated that we believe our successful truck program as originally adopted was legal, have adjusted it in accordance with the preliminary injunction, and now await the final trial ruling by Judge Snyder. Until that decision is announced, it wouldn’t be appropriate for us to take a position on pending legislation that could potentially impact our program.”

In a joint op-ed piece written for Politico, Teamsters general president James P. Hoffa and Sierra Club chairman Carl Pope came out in support of the bill and at the same time took issue with the current system.

“These drivers are behind the wheel of heavy-duty container rigs for 12 to 15 hours each day,” they wrote. “Industry leaders and academics put drivers’ average take-home pay between $10 and $11 per hour. Few drivers have private health insurance and benefits. The workers, in turn, can afford only the oldest, most decrepit clunkers, making it no surprise that 95% of our nation’s 110,000 port trucks fail to meet current Environmental Protection Agency emission standards.”

Paul Karr, senior communication officer for the Coalition for Clean & Safe Ports, said his group is heartened by the support of more than 150 groups the bill has already received.

“This broad support - both within Congress and in the public arena - is really encouraging,” he told Fleet Owner. “The thrust of this legislation is that it allows them to implement clean-truck programs like what’s occurred out at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach without being subjected to excessive litigation; it unties their hands so to speak.”

Karr said the legislation ultimately creates a federal amendment that reduces the risk of ports all over the country being taken to court over such clean-truck efforts. “It affirms their right to engage in such actions and gives them a clear line of authority to do so.”

“Congressman Nadler’s bill is a simple way for Washington to help local governments reduce emissions, create green jobs, improve public health, and help responsible businesses grow and compete as part of a national economic recovery strategy,” said David Foster, executive director of the BlueGreen Alliance, a partner in the Coalition for Clean & Safe Ports. “We commend Congressman Nadler and his colleagues, and we look forward to working with Congress this session to remove this barrier to progress in federal transportation policy.”

The Coalition didn’t hold back in its response to the bill, criticizing the American Trucking Assns. (ATA) for its stance on the Los Angeles Clean Truck Program.

“Officials announced a near 80% reduction in emissions and struggling local truck manufacturers saw business up by one-third, but then the American Trucking Assns. gutted the EPA award-winning program in U.S. District court to return to the status quo,” said the Coalition. “In the fifteen months since, some haulers at the nation’s largest port complex report that their earnings have dropped below minimum wage because a once-transforming industry is now deducting the truck payments and other operation costs straight from their paychecks via lease scams currently being investigated by the U.S. House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure.”

The ATA has not yet responded to a request for comment from FleetOwner.

According to Ilan Kayatsky, communications director for Nadler, the bill is important to clarify the federal rules regarding clean truck programs so other ports are not faced with lawsuits like Los Angeles when implementing their own programs.

“The bill gives the authority to enact and enforce the clean ports programs, and that includes the labor component,” he told Fleet Owner.

ATA has been fighting the mandate in the LA program that would require drivers entering the port to be company employed and not independent operators. There are several lawsuits over various portions of the LA Clean Trucks program ongoing.

A spokesman for the Port of Long Beach said that port has no stance on the bill, citing the ongoing success of its clean-truck program. “The port of Long Beach has achieved its current clean air goals under current law and we do not have a position on Congressman Nadler’s bill,” he told Fleet Owner.

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