Another Fine Mess

 Our friends at the Federal Maritime Commission ("FMC") are at it again.  Not satisfied with having sued the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to roll back the environmental gains those ports have made through their Clean Trucks Plan, the FMC has now taken an administrative step to kill the funding mechanism for the clean trucks.  

Here is how the Clean Trucks Plan is supposed to work.  Roughly 17,000 old, heavily polluting diesel trucks need to be replaced.  New, relatively clean trucks cost upwards of $150,000.  Do the math - that's over $2 billion.  The owner/drivers who now make up most of the Port workforce can't afford that kind of money, and so the Ports decided, in December, 2007, to fund most of the cost themselves by imposing a clean trucks fee of $70 per container (actually, $35 per TEU if you're keeping score at home).  That fee would be collected by marine terminal operators at the Ports and ultimately paid by the retailer who ordered the goods, which makes perfect sense under the "polluter pays" principle. 

To make this plan happen, the marine terminal operators at the ports filed a plan with the FMC setting out how they proposed to cooperate in collecting the clean trucks fee.  This kind of agreement to cooperate normally goes into effect immediately.  But nothing is normal when it comes to the FMC's dislike of the clean trucks plan, and so the FMC let the Ports know that the agreement would not go into effect for 45 days, if then.  

This bureaucratic slap in the face has already cost the Ports millions of dollars.  And trucking companies that have signed up to be Port concessionaires have written to the FMC, complaining about this abrupt and senseless action.    

The 45 day waiting period imposed by the FMC ends on December 18, 2008.  Not coincidentally, the FMC has scheduled a hearing for December 17, 2008, where it will discuss the clean trucks fee issue in closed session.  Don't get me started about the FMC barring public participation in its meetings.  At the December 17 hearing, the FMC can decide to extend the waiting period another 45 days, to file (another) lawsuit, or to let the funding mechanism for the clean trucks plan go into effect.  

Let's be very clear:  if the clean trucks fee goes down, the clean trucks plan goes down too, taking Port expansion plans with it.  Stay tuned.