Your Witness -- At Last!

After two trips to the appellate court, the American Trucking Association’s lawsuit against the Port of Los Angeles over the Port’s Clean Trucks Plan will finally go to trial on Tuesday, April 20, 2010 before United States District Judge Christina Snyder in Los Angeles.  Here is an update on what to expect. 

The central issue in the case from the environmental standpoint has come down to this:  can the Port require that trucking companies shoulder the cost of maintaining the Port truck fleet rather than leaving the burden on the underpaid drivers.  Plaintiff American Trucking Association says no; the Port of Los Angeles and the Intervenors – Sierra Club, Coalition for Clean Air, and NRDC – say yes.

By way of background, the Port, under pressure from NRDC and others to grow green or not grow at all, enacted a Clean Air Action Plan in 2006 that aimed to clean up diesel pollution from Port-serving trucks, ships, trains, tugs and other equipment.  This was needed for the trucking fleet because the “independent owner-operator” trucking system that had evolved after trucking was deregulated in the 1980’s had resulted in a fleet of 16,000 or so old, dirty trucks serving the Port.  The principal reason for this was (and is) that the drivers net an average of $12 per hour and all too often could not afford to spend money on proper maintenance of their trucks.  For good reason, there was a saying:  Ports are where old trucks go to die.

To fix this problem, the Port enacted a regulation that made the trucking companies (“licensed motor carriers”) responsible for truck maintenance.  The Port also went out of pocket over $24 million to subsidize private industry to bring new, clean trucks to the Port.  Trucking companies snapped up the Port’s money, but the American Trucking Association filed suit, claiming that the regulation violates federal law. 

The Trucking Association tried, but failed, to have the Port regulations thrown out on legal grounds.  So, next week, they will bring witnesses to the witness stand to try to convince Judge Snyder that the Port regulations violate a federal statute that restricts, in some circumstances, local governments from regulating the prices, routes or services of trucking companies. 

The American Trucking Association witnesses will testify first, then the Port’s witnesses, then Intervenors’.  The trial is scheduled to last eight court days.  Judge Snyder may rule from the bench at trial’s end, or take the case under submission.  If you want to see the American system of justice in action, c’mon down.