Legislation that would allow ports throughout the nation to mimic California’s Clean Trucks Program has been introduced in the U.S. Senate. The legislation would regulate and enforce fuel-efficient truck programs that go beyond current federal mandates. It was introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY).

The Clean Ports Act of 2011 would empower port cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Newark, Oakland and Seattle to set standards, reduce emissions and improve air quality by replacing older diesel trucks with cleaner vehicles “without imposing the burden onto truck drivers,” according to the bill’s sponsors.

In Los Angeles, the clean truck program is set to permanently ban all trucks with engines made prior to 2007 from operating at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach beginning Jan. 1, 2012. However, a portion of the program that would require truck companies to hire drivers as direct employees rather than contract with individual owner-operators was struck down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit on Sept. 26, 2011.

The Clean Ports Act of 2011, however, includes a mandate that would require port freight haulers to hire drivers as employees rather than allow them to use owner-operators.

If approved, the measure would serve as a legislative end-around for the Port of Los Angeles to finally enforce a ban on independent owner-operator truck drivers as part of the $1.6 billion Clean Trucks Program, according to a report in the Daily Breeze.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in September tossed out the controversial mandate, which would have forced freight haulers to hire their drivers as employees. The neighboring Port of Long Beach enacted a version of the Clean Trucks Program that did not include the employee mandate.

“There’s been talk about introducing this kind of legislation all year, which shows they were expecting to lose this case in court,” said Curtis Whalen of the American Trucking Assns, which filed a lawsuit against the Port of Los Angeles shortly after the Clean Trucks Program went into effect three years ago.

“There’s no way this will pass in a Republican-controlled House,” Whalen told the Breeze. “This is likely a maneuver to get the Teamsters and all the other unions to have something to rally around at the end of the year.”

Approximately 95% of the nation’s 110,000 port trucks fail to meet Environmental Protection Agency emissions standards, according to legislation sponsors. According to EPA estimates, poor air quality impacts 87 million people who live and work near U.S. ports.

“Congress must act to provide New York, and cities all across the country, with the common-sense tools they need to improve the quality of air and quality of life for millions of people,” said Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “It’s time to update federal laws and allow our nation’s ports to help reduce diesel emissions and improve air quality for all New Yorkers by putting clean trucks on the road.”

“With this bill, New Yorkers who live in and near the working waterfront will be able to breathe a little easier knowing that Congress has provided the tools to ensure that the thousands of trucks on their roads are using the latest in clean technology,” said Schumer. “This is a common-sense initiative that will improve public health without diminishing economic activity in our port. I look forward to pushing hard for it in the Senate.”

“The Clean Ports Act is a critical modernization of federal law that would dramatically improve the quality of air for the 87 million Americans who live and work near major container ports,” said U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the House sponsor of the legislation. “It is indefensible that ports are being challenged from enforcing clean truck programs to replace highly polluting and outmoded diesel trucks. Such pollution profoundly increases rates of asthma, cancer and heart disease and contributes to a growing public health crisis across the nation. I am thrilled that Senator Gillibrand has joined this important campaign to clean up our ports and protect Americans from unnecessary pollution.”

Earlier this year, Nadler, a senior member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, re-introduced the House version of the bill.

More than 150 civic, environmental, labor, business, and civil rights groups, including the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Change to Win, American Stevedoring, Inc., BlueGreen Alliance, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Sierra Club, Apollo Alliance, and Natural Resources Defense Council, support the Clean Ports Act.

BlueGreen Alliance Executive Director David Foster called the bill “a simple way” the federal government can help local governments cut emissions, boost green jobs, improve public health and help responsible businesses grow during economic recovery.