Trucking and shipper organizations are fighting tooth and nail to delay and curtail a five-year plan developed by the California ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles to cut commercial truck emissions by 80%, a plan that is scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1, 2008.

Currently, 1,300 motor carriers and 16,000-plus independent owner-operators provide intermodal drayage services to the two ports, which handle over 40% of all containerized trade in the U.S. The Clean Trucks Program, part of the Clean Air Action Plan (CAAP) approved by the ports' governing boards a year ago, seeks to get drayage truck owners to scrap and replace the oldest of about 16,000 trucks working at the ports, as well as retrofit the others, with the assistance of port-sponsored grants.

To date, the ports have allocated $166 million to fund those grants, with the South Coast Air Quality Management District making an additional $36 million available to the truck program.

CAAP addresses every category of port-related emission sources — ships, trucks, trains, cargo-handling equipment and harbor craft — and outlines specific strategies to reduce emissions in each category, for a total emissions reduction of at least 45% over the next five years.

Geraldine Knatz, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles, notes that research by both ports found that trucks are responsible for 23% of all port-related diesel particulate matter and 34% of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions, which contribute to poor air quality and increased health risks.

One of the more controversial parts of the program would allow only port-licensed “concessionaires” operating “clean trucks” to enter port terminals without having to pay a gate fee, estimated to be $34 per vehicle. “Clean trucks” are defined as 2007-model year or newer trucks, retrofitted trucks manufactured in 1994 or after, or trucks that have been replaced through the “Gateway Cities” truck modernization program sponsored by L.A. and Long Beach.

Year by year, the oldest trucks would be barred from the ports until only those meeting the CAAP “clean truck” standard would be permitted to work in the ports, according to Richard Steinke, executive director for the port of Long Beach. “Under ordinary use, a diesel truck can be operated for many decades,” he points out. “We need to find fair, equitable solutions that will accomplish our shared goals of moving cargo efficiently and securely, while improving air quality and reducing health risks.”

In addition, the concessionaires would have to own their own trucks and use only employee drivers.

Truckers and shippers would clearly bear the brunt of the economic impact of this plan, which could put 30% of the carriers currently operating at the ports out of business, and force the rest to raise rates by at least 80% to cover the cost of compliance with the emission restrictions, according to industry analysts.

The National Industrial Transportation League (NITL), the Pacific Merchant Shipping Assn. (PMSA), and the Intermodal Motor Carriers Conference are all calling on the Federal Maritime Commission to review what they term the “legal, logistical, anti-competitive and economic harm” that may result from the ports' truck plan.

“As currently envisioned, the ports' trucking plan is dressed up as an air quality initiative but results in anti-competitive reorganization of the logistics industry,” says John Ficker, NITL's president.

“There is no question that cleaner air is in everyone's interest and a goal we fully support,” he continues. “However, the ports' plan will not accomplish this and is in reality a program designed to serve special interests, not the environment. Even if you have a clean truck, you would be barred [from the ports] if you don't follow the ports' new logistics model.”

“This plan is a formula for a legal and logistical quagmire at the ports,” says John McLaurin, PMSA's president. “We support clear and enforceable statewide standards for all trucks operating in California to be developed and implemented by the state of California. However, this proposal will only result in more congestion at the ports.”