ATA sues ports of Long Beach, Los Angeles over truck edict

| 7/29/2008

The American Trucking Association has sued to halt major port restructuring plans being implemented at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.

The suit could bring the multi-billion dollar plan to a grinding halt, slowing economic re-structuring and emissions cuts planned for the ports.

Each port has adopted separate versions of the “Clean Truck Program,” which requires all trucks entering the port to meet 2007 emissions standards by 2012. Motor carriers would have to be licensed port concessionaires approved by the port, and also would have to register each truck with the port. Los Angeles plans to phase out port drivers who are not company employees.

The ATA filed a lawsuit Monday, saying it believes the ports’ clean truck programs violate federal statutes that prohibit states or their political subdivisions from enacting or enforcing a legal requirement that is “related to a price, route, or service of any motor carrier,” according to court documents.

Bill Graves, CEO of the ATA, said the litigation shouldn’t interfere with the ports’ clean air efforts.

“We firmly believe that these concession programs unlawfully re-regulate the port trucking industry to the detriment of motor carriers, shippers and the businesses and consumers that depend on the products that are handled at these ports,” Graves said in a written statement.

Joe Rajkovacz, OOIDA’s regulatory affairs specialist, has met with port officials at the Port of Los Angeles regarding their clean truck program. Rajkovacz said the underlying reason for ATA’s suit is to maintain the current drayage system and its reliance on undercompensated owner-operators.

“The ports’ efforts to improve air quality include a multi-billion dollar subsidy plan that is necessary because of the poor economic conditions faced by drayage owner-operators,” Rajkovacz said. “The port drivers face a tremendous struggle just to support their families, leaving very little money for operating costs and equipment maintenance. There’s no way they can ever afford to upgrade to cleaner trucks on their own.

“The ATA claims to support clean air goals of the ports but it appears the only aspect they support is the ability to take an 80 percent subsidy from the ports and taxpayers for the purchase of cleaner trucks. That is not a free market at work and shows how broken the current drayage economic model is.”

The local drayage companies servicing the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach operate many of the oldest and most polluting diesel trucks in the nation. The restructuring at those ports could set precedent for emissions requirements and economic restructuring to be tackled by other U.S. ports.

Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Geraldine Knatz told Rajkovacz during a public meeting in mid-March that the port would create a day-pass system to allow long-haul truckers access to the ports, regardless of concessionaire status.

“The Port of L.A. is still working on their day pass,” Rajkovacz said.

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer