Port of Long Beach delays port truck plan adoption ‘to do it right’

| 10/30/2007

One by one, drivers from the Port of Long Beach stepped up to the podium to tell port commissioners why they wanted the port to make them company employees in an effort to reduce emissions.

“Buenas tardes,” a driver named Jorge told commissioners before his address was interpreted into English by a man wearing a shirt with the word “Teamsters” stitched on it.

The Port of Long Beach officials again postponed consideration of the latest version of their clean truck program on Monday, drawing criticism from environmental organizations and Teamsters-backed groups.

“It appears the ports continue to delay tackling this issue,” said Adrian Martinez of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Commissioners fired back, however.

Commissioner James Hankla asked Martinez specifically how making drayage drivers into company employees would clean the air.

“I know there are many interests here,” Hankla said. “You are all entitled to your opinion but you have one thing we don’t have. You have the right to be wrong. We do not have that. We have responsibility and accountability.”

The ports’ air quality problems could be solved by replacing the estimated 16,000 dirty trucks that haul freight within the port every day, commissioners agreed. Defining how the trucks are replaced and who is prevented from entering the port is another matter.

The port of Long Beach’s latest proposal would ban pre-1989 trucks by October 2008, and pre-2007 truck engines by 2014. Los Angeles had a similar proposal but recently changed its plan to ban all pre-2007 engines by 2012.

Both ports have been lobbied heavily by retailers and trade associations concerned about the proposed plan’s cost increases; port drivers and union officials wanting to organize employees; and residents surrounding the ports concerned about heavy pollution from dirty, older drayage trucks and incoming ships that burn large amounts of sulfur-heavy oil.

Commissioner Mike Walter suggested that anyone who had a solution to pay for new trucks forward them to the commission so he could “read them like an investment banker.”

The officials at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have worked jointly on a proposed clean truck program aimed at reducing emissions. They have postponed adopting the plan numerous times, and have changed the plan.

The plan was criticized because in one draft, the plan required all port drayage drivers to be company employees, and prevented access from the port to licensed concessionaires approved through a process that would favor the largest companies with the most assets.

The Teamsters are reportedly working to gain footholds at ports across the country, including specifically Long Beach and Los Angeles, Oakland and Seattle.

Jorge told commissioners he wouldn’t be able to purchase a new truck to meet the Port of Long Beach’s most recent proposed clean truck program, and argued that the ports should adopt the Teamsters-backed proposal.

“We’re not able to have our trucks in good shape and aren’t able to buy a new truck,” he said through the interpreter.

Regardless of which final plan the ports adopt, the commission’s objective remains the same, said President Mario Cordero.

“Ultimately the industry needs to come together. We’re losing kids as a result of respiratory disease,” Cordero said.

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer