Going green may mean closing ports to owner-operators

| 4/27/2007

Ports at Los Angeles and Long Beach may agree to become the first major U.S. ports to overhaul operations in order to meet emissions standards.

Just what kind of overhaul will happen depends on who you ask.

An estimated 16,000 tractor-trailers pull into the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach every day, and port leaders say the vehicles are among the oldest and dirtiest trucks still operating in the United States.

The ports have pledged to fund $200 million to purchase new trucks that meet 2007 diesel emissions standards, and say that a new licensing program planned to take effect Jan. 1, 2008, would ensure that only financially viable truck owners could access the ports and the truck replacement dollars.

Port officials say operations changes haven’t been defined on paper, though they’ve presented new possibilities to industry stakeholders during two meetings in early April. A new licensing system would limit the trucks eligible to enter the port to only those on a list of “concessionaires” that would meet environmental and financial standards set by the ports, they say.

“We have to clean up port-related operations here in order to grow,” Arley Baker, a spokesman for the Port of Los Angeles, told Land Line.

Baker said he expected it would be late June before a draft of the proposed changes would be made public.

An attorney with the American Trucking Association, however, said the new rules appear to be tailored to meet the goals of unions while shutting out owner-operators.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters and several other labor groups are part of the Coalition for Clean & Safe Ports, which drafted a sample “restructured drayage system” that calls for trucking companies to submit applications to be considered a concessionaire.

Land Line obtained a copy of a sample regulation the coalition sent to Geraldine Knatz, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles. Under the sample reg, applications would be graded with scores weighted heavily on criteria such as experience in commercial trucking and driver recruiting.

The scoring system would award points based on a company’s net worth, assets and working capital. Companies with less than $3 million in working capital would receive zero points and those with $15 million and more would gain 15 points.

“Companies that have employee drivers would now pay (the port) $5,000 per truck that they’re deploying, and then 10 percent of your revenues,” said Curtis Whalen, executive director of the ATA’s Intermodal Motor Carrier’s Conference.

“It looks to me like something designed by the Sopranos.”

The port restriction seems to address environmental issues less than making drivers union members, Whalen said, and he expects unions to ask other ports to examine similar changes.

“The question was asked what happens if an owner-operator comes in with an ’07 truck?” Whalen said. “And the answer is no. The question is – where does clean air come in?”

Baker said owner-operators that make occasional deliveries to the port in trucks that meet 2007 emissions standards could enter the port during the program’s first five years. By 2013, he said, all trucks must be licensed concessionaires.

The Teamsters’ proposal was one of several proposals drafted by labor and environmental groups, Baker said. Owner-operators may apply for a port license, though Baker said the port doesn’t yet have specific applicant scoring systems in place.

Rick Craig, director of regulatory affairs for OOIDA, said the proposed operations changes haven’t made clear how long-haul drivers would be affected.

“Many long-haul truckers enter various ports maybe once every two or three years,” Craig told Land Line. “We sure as hell don’t like the idea that these members could be scammed for onerous licensing fees, or otherwise be forced to pay a local concessionaire just to make the occasional pickup or delivery.”

Paul Johansen, the Los Angeles port’s director of environmental management, said the operational changes will benefit the environment, stabilize the workforce and lead to a more secure port.

Johansen acknowledged that environmental and labor groups are generally favorable to the ports’ changes, he said, while the trucking industry hasn’t agreed with the unspecified changes.

“There are different interest groups out and about – everywhere,” Johansen said. “There’s enough in our program for people to not like, or to like.”

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer