Spencer to California officials: ‘you’re not listening to truckers’

| 3/3/2008

Waves of regulations on trucks, trains, planes and ships may be to the detriment of California’s trade prospects, OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said during a recent panel discussion in Los Angeles.

The California Air Resources Board has aimed deep pollution cuts at ports and trucks especially, in recent months, as it prepares to cut total state emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020.

As CARB and other state and local officials develop emissions rules, it appears they haven’t taken truck driver input into consideration, Spencer said.

“They’re not listening to the right people,” Spencer said in an interview with Land Line.

Spencer participated in a three-day “Summit on North American Goods Movement and Air Quality” during the last week of February. It was hosted by the California Air Resources Board, the EPA, and the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.

Emissions rules, however, can hurt the Golden State’s economy if shippers tap into a growing slate of port choices in Mexico, Canada and elsewhere on the West Coast, Spencer said to the panel.

“In my particular view, they haven’t really thought through the consequences of what they are proposing,” Spencer said.

Spencer participated in a roundtable discussion titled “Tackling the Transition to Greener Drayage Operations.” The discussion also included representatives from the Teamsters, the California Trucking Association and the British Columbia Trucking Association.

Other speakers included Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and CARB Chairman Mary Nichols.

Spencer’s group discussed the balance of imports coming through California ports, he said, and whether pollution-related issues are driving shippers outside of California.

Multiple ports with rail and truck-connections such as Mexico’s Manzanillo are reportedly seen more as viable alternatives for the billions of Asian-goods imported through the West Coast.

“There are some that believe that’s already happening,” Spencer said. “Global shippers are interested in one thing: that’s the absolute rock bottom cost. Just as they will play one trucking company against another, they will play one port against another. That’s how global business is done.”

The Port of Long Beach’s recent adoption of a clean truck concessionaire program designed to cut emissions won’t work if the thousands of local independent drayage drivers aren’t paid enough to buy newer trucks, Spencer said.

“If the system is going to change, and for the long term, the underlying economics have got to change,” Spencer told Land Line. “If the drivers that operate those trucks aren’t compensated at a level that’s reasonable to allow for vehicle maintenance, then they won’t be maintained.”

Many truck drivers pledged not to drive into California following the state’s approval of multiple regulations in recent years, including 2008 regulations limiting idling to five minutes and requiring all truck engines to have emission compliance labels affixed by the manufacturer.

Mark Kirch, an OOIDA member from Cortland, OH, said he hasn’t taken his truck to California since the 1990s.

Kirch told Land Line he wondered how freight prices would be affected if all out-of-state drivers agreed to do the same.

“If every driver would quit going there, things would change quickly,” Kirch said.

California’s high fuel prices, traffic-slammed highways and lack of parking have spurred many drivers to say the same, Spencer said.

“So many of the guys simply say, ‘Forget it, I’m not going,’” Spencer said.

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer