A win for clean air in Los Angeles

The air in Los Angeles got some good news this week.  The federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decided the American Transportation Associations vs. Port of Los Angeles case in favor of the Port’s Clean Trucks Plan.  I’ve blogged about this case many times, most recently here

I’ve seen a lot of inaccurate media reports on what the Ninth Circuit did--some wildly inaccurate--so I’d like to describe very clearly the most important elements of the decision, keeping in mind that the opinion is not yet final.

ATA challenged the legality of certain provisions of the Port’s concession agreements—agreements that trucking companies sign for the privilege of coming onto Port property.  First, the court upheld the requirement in the agreements that trucking companies, and not drivers, are responsible for maintenance and repair to port-serving trucks.  If a trucking company fails to meet this obligation, it can be barred from sending any trucks to the Port.  From the environmental standpoint, this is the most important part of the concession agreement.  The fundamental problem that led to the enactment of the Plan in the first place is that the underpaid drivers could not afford to maintain their trucks properly or buy newer, cleaner trucks.  Having the trucking companies, rather than the drivers, responsible for maintaining the trucks fixes part of this problem.  Unfortunately, we have heard that some trucking companies are still forcing the drivers to pay for the maintenance, even though this maintenance clause has been in effect for over a year.  This is unacceptable and the Port needs to step up and put a stop to it.

Second, the court upheld the requirement that trucking companies have to be financially capable of meeting the requirements of the concession agreement.  This clause is to prevent those companies that cannot afford, for example, to properly maintain their trucks, from using the Port. 

Third, the court held that the employee driver provision in the concession agreements is illegal.  This clause required trucking companies to transition to a system in which the trucking companies employ the drivers, instead of hire them as independent contractors.  The clause has important environmental consequences because it would be a check on trucking companies’ efforts to slough off their maintenance requirements and other costs onto the so-called independent owner-operator drivers.  Without this clause, the Port will have to step up its inspection efforts and make sure that trucking companies, and not non-employee drivers, are paying to keep the trucks clean and safe. 

Port officials and local activists across the country have been waiting for this decision.  What does it mean for them?  Three things:  it’s legal to require trucking companies to pay to maintain their trucks, it’s legal to bar them from port property if they don’t, and it’s legal to kick under-capitalized trucking companies off port property.  These measures, taken together, can help to clean up the air at every port in the country.