ATA Needs to Get The Facts Straight About Clean Trucks

Yesterday, industry lobbyists from the American Trucking Association ("ATA") posted a piece on ATA's web site asserting that NRDC, the port of Los Angeles and the Mayor of Los Angeles have not been truthful in talking about the potential consequences of last week's Ninth Circuit ruling on the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports' clean trucks concession plans.  Not surprisingly, the narrative from the ATA and its staff of trucking industry advocates is not complete.  So, as Paul Harvey used to say, I will provide you the Rest of the Story. In particular, ATA said:

"Last week, the NRDC claimed the Court of Appeals decision "places in jeopardy the clean air goals at the ports, as well as every port infrastructure expansion project that relies on clean trucks." Those claims aren't supported by the facts.  Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Geraldine Knatz have made similar incorrect claims."

ATA is fighting for the right of trucking companies to do business at the ports no matter how dirty or unsafe they are.  Its lawsuit stands in the way of cleaning up some of the filthiest air in the nation.  Industry's reluctance to do its part in cleaning the air at the ports is a long tale, but we can focus in on a few critical facts that are absent from the ATA's spin.  

  • From the public health perspective, the Southern California ports are the single largest source of cancer risk from air toxics in the area.  The transport of freight in California leads to 3,700 premature deaths per year.  Trucking is a major source of this pollution, and it is undeniable that these dirty diesel vehicles that travel along the freeways, on harbor area streets and next to schools are leading to significant respiratory illnesses and worse.   
  • From the economic development aspect, Mayors Foster and Villaraigosa have both said repeatedly that their ports cannot expand unless the port trucking system is cleaned up.  And they are right. A delay in expansion projects could also impair commerce and cost the ports billions of dollars in revenue during this tough economic period.  The Clean Trucks Programs, including the concession plans, are needed to avoid these bleak consequences.  
  • ATA's own court papers and filings in other venues contradict its position that its actions are innocent and will not impede clean air objectives -- because they ignore the fact that killing the port concession agreements will kill the funding for replacement of 17,000 dirty port trucks.   
  • ATA's complaint alleges that "Defendants' use of contractual Concession Plans to regulate access to the Port of Los Angeles by motor carriers engaged in port drayage, violates the FAAA Act."  The complaint also asks for an injunction to stop the entire concession program.  Counsel for the ATA confirmed today that ATA will be asking District Court Judge Snyder for an injunction against both local ports' concession plans - in total. ATA wants the concession plans dead, although they are willing to take the ports' container fee money in return for nothing.    
  • Back in March of 2008, Richard O Levine on behalf of ATA's Curtis Whalen submitted a request to the Federal Maritime Commission asking the agency to halt the ports and the West Coast Marine Terminals Operators from "collect[ing] and exchanging information, engage[ing] in discussions, and reach[ing] agreement" with regard to several environmental, security, and infrastructure programs.  This effort was part of the reason that critical programs such as the collection of the ports' clean truck fee were delayed, and millions of dollars that could have gone to ATA's members to clean up their trucks was never collected.  The ATA has advocated for the FMC to make a sweeping attack on the clean trucks programs at both ports, and the FMC has been a willing partner.       

Here's how all this comes together.  Both ports require that, to get incentives or subsidies paid for by container fees, a driver or trucking company must sign a concession agreement.  So if ATA knocks out the concession agreements, container fees stop flowing to trucking companies and the truck fleet will stay dirty.  It's just too expensive for the truck drivers to buy new, $150,000 trucks on their own. 

The ports need to replace approximately 7,000 old, dirty trucks by the end of the year under a phase-out program that ATA purports not to challenge.  ATA knows well that this phase-out will not happen if there are no container fees to pay for it.  So what's happening is that ATA is using the Ninth Circuit decision to play "chicken" with the ports, betting that the ports will back down and give container fee money away to anyone without requiring anything in return.  Does this remind you of AIG's bailout strategy:  take public money but disclaim any responsibility to the taxpayers?  

So, we are left with an epic battle.  On one end are the harbor area residents that have for so many years paid with their health for the freight industry and its deadly pollution, and on the other end, a trucking industry that does not want to be held accountable for being a responsible business partner with the ports.  NRDC and our clients intend to make this clear in the upcoming hearings before Judge Snyder.