In a major step forward for better air quality around the nation's ports, U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder ruled Aug. 26 that the Port of Los Angeles is within its rights to implement a Clean Trucks Program that makes trucking firms responsible to maintain their own fleets of clean trucks.
Judge Snyder's ruling came in a lawsuit brought by the American Trucking Associations, which contended the port had no right under federal law to regulate the trucking industry's labor practices.
Among its provisions, the LA Clean Trucks program requires trucking firms doing business with the port to sign concession agreements including hiring their drivers as employees.
At present, many drivers are forced to work as "independent contractors," buying and maintaining their own trucks and averaging just $10 to $11 in take-home pay. Some 95 percent of the country's 110,000 port trucks now fail to meet the Environmental Protection Agency's current emissions standards.
"This victory bolsters the standing of burgeoning clean port programs across the nation," said Natural Resources Defense Council attorney Melissa Lin Perrella, who argued alongside the port at the trial. "Millions of people live in port communities across the country and are forced to subsidize the outdated port operations with their lungs. This decision allows the Port of Los Angeles to continue introducing cleaner trucks while getting dirty ones off the road and sets the stage for healthier communities nationwide."
LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called the decision a sign of "real progress ... now we can finally more forward with our Clean Trucks Program, a model for ports around the nation."
Calling the judge's decision "really clear," Valerie Lapin, a spokesperson for the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports, said it opens the way for Oakland and other ports to move forward with similar programs. "We've waited long enough," she said. "It's time to put an end to this toxic pollution that's causing asthma and cancer and forcing the drivers to work in exploitive conditions."
The nationwide coalition of over 125 organizations of environmentalists, port workers, residents, public health officials, faith and labor organizations works for sustainable economic development at ports around the country.
Lapin added that ATA's announcement it plans to appeal makes passage of H.R. 5957, the Clean Ports Act, introduced into Congress by U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-NY, late last month, even more urgent.
The legislation, which now has 67 co-sponsors, would clarify federal transportation law so local governments can fully implement market-based solutions to protect public health, spur green job creation, and pave the way for vital port infrastructure projects.
Studies have repeatedly shown that poor air quality in neighborhoods near ports is associated with high rates of asthma, lung cancer and heart disease. (national dec 09) Trucks serving the ports are heavily implicated in the findings.
In 2008 the Los Angeles Harbor Commission voted to require all trucks transporting goods to and from the port to meet 2007 federal emission standards by 2012. The Clean Trucks Program aimed to cut emissions by 85 percent. Among its provisions was the requirement that all port truck drivers be employed by the trucking firms they served. Besides making the firms responsible for the trucks, this provision also cleared the way for drivers to unionize.
However, the American Trucking Associations immediately filed suit, claiming that under federal law, the port had no right to require that drivers be hired as employees.
Photo: Trucks line up at the Port of Oakland. (Marilyn Bechtel/PW)