Competing interests duke it out over trucks
AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREGame Center: Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, 10 a.m.At the heart of the proposed Clean Truck Program is a hotly debated provision that harbor trucking be handled solely by employee drivers. Supporters like this approach because it guarantees higher wages for truckers, more easily enforceable environmental guidelines for the ports and a driver work force likely to meet looming federal security mandates. Industry groups are opposed because it opens the door for labor unions, higher employee costs, less competition and rising rates for freight movement. While threats of industry lawsuits have provided political cover for harbor commissioners as they repeatedly delayed a final vote in recent months, the time for stalling appears to be drawing to a close. And if Friday’s hearing is any indication, commissioners are prepared to enact the environmental regulatory plan as proposed and deal with the legal fallout later. “There’s some concern here and rightfully so, but every other industry has gone through this,” said Port of Los Angeles commission President S. David Freeman, who oversaw major environmental changes in power plant operations under President Jimmy Carter. “(Freight movement) is the last of the unregulated industries in this country.” Freeman, never one to mince words, put it even more bluntly in a statement to a panel of retail groups at Friday’s informational hearing in San Pedro. “Ultimately, the Wal-Marts and Targets are going to pay what it costs to move their goods in cleaner trucks and pay for a secure work force.” But what about the other nine commissioners overseeing the nation’s two largest and most economically important seaports? The five-member board Freeman leads is reportedly supportive of the employee provision. A consensus in Long Beach, however, doesn’t appear as likely. The commission’s five members are said to be split on the employee provision, with at least two solidly behind it, two leaning against and one on the fence. One factor that may push a quick resolution is the five-year backlog of terminal expansion projects on the waterfront. If port authorities hope to get those projects approved in coming years, they need the truck problem fixed. That’s because the 16,000 or so diesel rigs hauling containers and cargo to and from marine terminals are a major source of pollution tied to health problems like asthma and cancer. Without mitigating the issue as required by California law, the ports won’t be able to grow. In addition, elected leaders in the area, including most of the Long Beach and Los Angeles city councils, local congressional representatives, state senators and Assembly members, are pushing commissioners to approve the plan as proposed. A poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research shows 83 percent of area residents support it, and an economic study by John Husing reports a net benefit to the region in wages and decreased health-care costs. But intense industry opposition, threats of lawsuits, questions about the plan’s impact on cargo movement during a transition period and uneasiness about higher freight costs have authorities balking. Some are even suggesting starting from scratch. “We should go back to the table and redesign this program,” said Patty Senecal, owner of a Long Beach-based truck company. But, at this point, that seems highly unlikely. According to Freeman’s own statements, the ports have invested too much time, money and research into their clean truck goals, and may just be ready to force the issue into court for final resolution. At the same time, shippers and retailers are standing their ground. “Provisions requiring employment status are not negotiable to us,” said Julie Sauls of the California Trucking Association. In recent weeks, port authorities on both sides of San Pedro Bay have been shoring up their legal services, meeting regularly with attorneys to discuss possible outcomes and strategies to defend their position. Industry, meanwhile, is busy drafting lawsuits that charge port authorities with overstepping their regulatory jurisdiction and trampling federal and state trade laws. Unless a compromise is reached – soon – expect the best legal minds on both sides to be in court before year’s end. [email protected] local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! ANALYSIS: The plan to lower emissions is pitting a host of parties against each other. By Kristopher Hanson STAFF WRITER What began as a noble plan to snuff out diesel truck pollution has turned into a political battle pitting environmentalists, local elected leaders and organized labor against shipping and retail industries.