Monday, August 30, 2010
Judge Allows Port of L.A. to Institute ‘Clean Trucks Program’
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
A federal judge has ruled that the Port of Los Angeles can regulate trucks that haul goods in and out of its property to reduce air pollution around the country’s busiest port complex.
U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder of the Central District of California ruled Thursday that the port’s Clean Trucks Program can require big rigs entering the port to comply with strict diesel emissions standards and eliminate owner-operator drivers.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa issued a statement Friday, hailing the decsiion as “evidence that we are making real progress on growing and greening our Port.” He called the program “a model for ports around the nation.”
The American Trucking Associations sued in 2008, arguing that the ports cannot require companies to hire drivers as direct employees because it would stop independent owner-operators from working the harbor.
The trucking industry group said it supported the port’s clean air goals, but the employee mandate would violate a federal law that prohibits states and local entities from regulating interstate trucking prices, routes and services.
The port’s attorneys argued that federal law allows regulations that directly influence safety and security at the port.
In 2008, Snyder declined to block the new requirements because of a provision in federal law that allows states to impose safety requirements on trucks. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a temporary injunction and remanded the case to the district court.
While Snyder ruled that some parts of the program were preempted by federal law and not all the rules had to do with safety, she found the port should be able to take steps to regulate air pollution to stay competitive in the marketplace.
She wrote that the port is a “market participant,” which allows it to take action to maintain its commercial operations, “as any private landlord or facilities operator would.”
Air pollution has “interfered with Port growth and has jeopardized the Port’s continued viability as a commercial enterprise,” she wrote.
Snyder also ruled that the employee mandate will make sure drivers can afford to maintain environmentally friendly trucks and protect the port’s investment in subsidized vehicles.
The ATA also argued that the employee mandate would allow unions to organize drivers at the port, and that unionization will lead to reduced competition and increased transportation costs.
Reaction to the ruling could not be immediately obtained from the ATA. But in congressional testimony in May, the organization’s chief counsel, Robert Digges Jr., said the owner-operator ban was unnecessary.
“The port’s entire justification for the independent contractor ban is based on the false premise that motor carriers lack accountability for the safe operation of owner-operator drivers and their trucks,” Digges said. “The port refuses to acknowledge that under the federal safety regulatory scheme – which the port police can fully enforce – motor carriers have identical accountability and safety responsibility for owner-operators and their trucks as they do for employee drivers and company owned trucks. If the port is legitimately worried about truck safety all they have to do is enforce the existing law because they have a perfect enforcement environment, with controlled gate access for each truck and driver.”
The port’s executive director, Geraldine Knatz, said she was pleased with the decision, which will help “provide a more safe and secure trucking system in the long term.”
“It’s a victory of national significance because it means port across the country are free to enact programs like LA’s without question,” said Natural Resources Defense Council attorney David Pettit, who argued in favor of the program at trial.
TJ Michels, of the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports, celebrated the ruling.
“This is a huge victory for anyone who breathes the air in Southern California. It’s a big victory for truck drivers who want to have good green jobs,” she said. “This is a sustainable program that’s no longer subsidized by the lungs of residents.”
The ATA’s original lawsuit also included the Port of Long Beach, but the case settled after the port agreed to remove the employee provision from its version of the Clean Trucks Program.
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company