Court Orders Long Beach to Analyze the Environmental Impacts of the Modified Clean Trucks Program

Late last week a federal judge upheld one of California’s most important environmental laws, ruling that the Port of Long Beach acted illegally when it changed its Clean Truck Program without first complying with the California Environmental Quality Act.  The Port will now have to do a study of the environmental impacts of the changes it made to its program, with public input and transparency.      

The Los Angeles and Long Beach ports are major sources of air pollution, including diesel pollution that harms the health of local communities.  About 1/3 of this port-generated pollution comes from the thousands of diesel trucks serving the ports every day.  To reduce truck emissions, both ports each adopted their own Clean Truck Programs in 2007 and 2008, requiring the use of cleaner trucks and a host of other important requirements. 

The trucking industry trade group the American Trucking Associations (ATA) subsequently sued both Los Angeles and Long Beach, arguing that the programs were illegal.  NRDC jumped in the case to help defend these important programs, representing NRDC, the Sierra Club, and the Coalition for Clean Air.  Last summer, the U.S. Federal District Court ruled that the Clean Truck Program is legal .  But months before that case went to trial, the Port of Long Beach settled with ATA, allowing Long Beach to get out of the lawsuit in exchange for weakening its Clean Truck Program

The local community was outraged, because the Port of Long Beach not only weakened its program, but did so behind closed doors without any input from the public.  Further, the Port did not do any analysis to understand how the changes would impact air pollution levels and the health of local residents.  Community members, port truck drivers, public health advocates, and environmental organizations asked the Port of Long Beach to reconsider .  We also appealed the port’s decision to the Long Beach City Council.  The City Attorney denied the appeal, leaving us with no choice but to take legal action to protect the health of the local residents.

In court, NRDC—representing ourselves and Sierra Club—argued that the Port of Long Beach’s settlement agreement weakened the Clean Truck Program, that this change would increase air pollution, and that the Port violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) when it changed its program without first performing the required environmental analysis.  CEQA requires that a state agency analyze how its actions will impact the environment—and it must do so before taking action.  In this case, the Port of Long Beach did not perform any of the required analysis.

Late last week, the U.S. Federal District Court agreed with us.  The Honorable Christina Snyder ordered Long Beach to conduct an initial study that will help determine whether further environmental analysis is required. 

There is still a long road ahead on the journey cleaning up port operations at our Southern California ports, but this recent court ruling gets us one step closer.  We will be watching closely, to make sure Long Beach fully complies with the law.  The communities living near the ports that suffer from the significant health problems caused by trucking pollution deserve no less.