Clean Truck Programs Celebrate One-Year Anniversary

Today marks the 1-year anniversary of the Clean Truck Programs at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.  These programs are measurably tackling the high rate of premature death, the heightened cancer and respiratory illness risk, and the 20 percent childhood asthma rate in diesel-soaked Southern California communities.

By banning the oldest trucks outright, and incentivizing the purchase of newer, cleaner vehicles, Los Angeles officials have removed 2,000 of the dirtiest rigs from service and helped business put nearly 6,000 clean-burning and alternative fuel trucks on the road.

Port trucking had become a killer and cost the Los Angeles region an annual $1.7 billion in the form of operational inefficiencies, community costs, and, above all, impacts on public health.  These systematic failures can be largely attributed to motor carrier deregulation, which enabled trucking companies to downsize their fleets and contract with thousands of individual haulers who operated their own rigs.  Study after study showed that this workforce only averaged $10-11 an hour.  With these wages, drivers could only afford old, decaying, diesel-spewing trucks that put their lungs, public health and the local environment at risk.

To address these market failures, environmental and labor organizations came together to form a powerful coalition.  We advocated that unless financially secure firms assumed responsibility for proper fleet maintenance, smog-belching trucks would reappear a few years from now, causing children, residents and workers to once again wheeze their way to the emergency room.  As a result, the Port of Los Angeles requires trucking companies to meet environmental, safety, and security standards in exchange for access to the terminal gates, instead of placing these costs on under-paid truck drivers. 

The Los Angeles Clean Truck Program also relies on attractive financial incentives to make environmental compliance economically advantageous for both small and large companies. Amidst a recession, over $500 million in private investment has been leveraged to date.  And with new truck sales down 60 percent nationwide, dealers and manufacturers in Southern California are seeing business up by one-third versus last year.  The real-world impact of the Clean Truck Program is undeniable.  In just 12 months, the port's goal of cutting truck toxins by 80 percent is three years ahead of schedule, and equivalent to removing 200,000 cars from the freeways.

But these major successes remain under attack by industry associations that threaten to stall or reverse the emissions reductions achieved. The American Trucking Associations has vigorously litigated to kill key components the Clean Truck Program, even though its member companies signed onto the plan that streamlines operations and improves efficiency.  The trucking lobby is arguing that federal law prevents ports from conditioning port access on meeting safety, environment, and security-based requirements.

Congress has the power to update federal law to remove any doubt that ports can enact solutions that compliment green business growth and protect public health.  And Congressional action won't just benefit Southern California; trade hubs across the country, including Newark, Houston, Norfolk and Seattle, are facing similar health and environmental challenges that Los Angeles officials took head on.  The communities in these freight transportation corridors are also looking for a solution.

The Los Angeles Clean Truck Program provides a clear roadmap for forward-looking businesses to compete without dirty trucks and cheap labor.  Federal lawmakers must recognize the importance of this program and protect local governments that are attempting to responsibly tackle localized air pollution. Specifically, they must provide assurances to environmental and customer-minded port officials in Oakland, New York and New Jersey who have publicly indicated that, like Los Angeles, they too want to reap the long-term benefits of comprehensive clean-up plans.

The Port of Los Angeles Clean Truck Program was adopted after years of studies, advocacy work, and planning.  It is a landmark program that delivers clean air and sustainable jobs.  Most importantly, it has a proven track record of success.  As we celebrate the program's first year, Congress should embrace this local green-growth model and take action to protect it.


For more information about the Clean Trucks Program see:

David Pettit's NRDC Blog Posts

NRDC Press Release:  LA Ports Meet Clean Air Goals Years Ahead of Schedule

Daily Breeze Article:  More than 5,000 trucks meet Clean Trucks Program standards at ports