Environmental group threatens lawsuit on truck diesel PM

| 2/13/2008

The Natural Resources Defense Council is threatening to sue one California port, claiming that trucks working at the port are breaking a resource conservation law that prohibits disposal of hazardous waste.

The NRDC – based in New York, NY – sent a letter to Port of Long Beach officials in early February giving the port 90 days to adopt the third portion of its “clean truck program.”

The twin ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles are preparing to consider the final piece of a three-part “clean truck plan” designed to cut emissions at the ports, which claim to bring in 40 percent of foreign imports into the U.S. This winter, the ports already approved a requirement to ban older trucks by fall 2008, and also approved new container fees to purchase new trucks.

The final phase of the program would require truck drivers entering the port to be company employees and would limit port access to certain companies that have been designated as concessionaires.

Long Beach Harbor Commissioners have reportedly questioned whether the last portion of the truck plan addresses environmental concerns or placates organized labor groups such as the Teamsters Union, while Los Angeles city officials have pressured both ports to approve the measure.

According to the NRDC’s letter, Long Beach has missed repeated deadlines from its own environmental policies and therefore is in violation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act – a 1976 federal law used mostly in waste disposal and cleanup cases.

“Here, the port allows the discharge and placing of solid and hazardous diesel particulates into the air, from which it falls onto the ground and water nearby,” the letter states. “This diesel particulate hazardous waste contains numerous RCRA hazardous wastes.”

The NRDC’s threat has been met with skepticism among transportation industry insiders.

“It’s such a novel legal theory they’re trying to stretch; it does make me wonder what they’re smoking,” said Joe Rajkovacz, OOIDA’s regulatory affairs specialist.

Rajkovacz has met with Los Angeles port officials and spoken with the Federal Maritime Commission to air OOIDA’s concerns that long-haul owner-operators would be shut out of both ports and be subject to on-the-spot fees by companies with port access.

The NRDC is working with groups like the Teamsters Union, and appears to be playing labor politics more than showing concern for the environment, Rajkovacz said.

“They’re shilling for organized labor and trying to force the Port of Long Beach back to a position occupied by the Port of Los Angeles and (L.A.) Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa,” Rajkovacz said. “This is nothing but pure far leftwing politics on full display.”

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer