Nearly five years ago, in October 2008, the Port of Los Angeles began banning old, polluting trucks from doing business at the Port. The Port’s award-winning Clean Truck Program was supported by a broad coalition of environmental, labor, community, and environmental justice advocates. Today, the Port attributes an 80 percent reduction in truck emissions to its Clean Truck Program. This means cleaner air for communities near the Port, residents who live near busy truck corridors, and for workers who drive port-serving trucks and work on the docks.
The Clean Truck Program sought to resolve a comprehensive, long standing problem. Historically, the trucks that served the Port—approximately 16,000—included some of the oldest and dirtiest on the road. Port and community members described the Port as “where old trucks go to die.” In addition to spewing diesel exhaust in Port communities and in neighborhoods all along truck routes, the Port also found that trucking operations posed safety and security threats to the community and port operations. Shockingly, the Port lacked a good accounting of who was driving trucks in and out of the port, as well as a legal mechanism to bar bad actors from its property.
Ensuring that the Clean Truck Program was a success has not been easy. Shortly before the program went into effect in 2008, the American Trucking Association sought to invalidate key components of the program, including the Port’s ability to require trucking companies to enter into a “concession agreement” with the Port that included a number of provisions aimed at making trucking operations cleaner, safer, and more secure. That case was hard fought and traveled all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court this year.
In the end, the Port was prohibited from moving forward with parts of its program including requiring trucking companies to park their trucks off residential streets; post a phone number on trucks that the public can call to report trucks that pose a health, safety or security threat; and employ their drivers. These were important provisions that would have made a positive difference in the lives of local communities and workers, and enhanced the long-term sustainability of the Port’s program. However, the heart of the Clean Truck Program remains in effect today and is producing health benefits for the Los Angeles region. Notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s decision, the Port’s dirty truck ban is still in place and trucking companies must enter into contractual arrangements with the Port if they want to haul port cargo.
Moving forward, it is critical that the Port continues to update the Clean Truck Program’s environmental standards so that the fleet of port-serving trucks stays modern. Indeed, the fleet of cleaner trucks on the road today will not stay clean forever as these vehicles age and technology advances. Further, the Port must aggressively enforce its program and punish violators who seek a free pass to pollute and reap an unfair advantage over companies who are complying with the program. Over the coming year, the Port will have opportunities to follow through on its commitment to clean air as it revisits and updates its Clean Truck Program.
The anniversary of the Clean Truck Program provides a moment to reflect on an environmental success story. It is proof that positive change can happen when a broad coalition of advocates work together to influence the political will of those in charge. It is a story, however, that is not yet over. The Port’s enforcement of the program and commitment to continue to update it are as important as ever. And the Clean Truck Program is just one of many initiatives that the Port needs if this region will ever meet federal clean air standards. Shipping trends uniformly indicate that more—not less—tennis shoes and electronics will be moved in and out of the Port. As a result, significant work needs to be done to curb existing pollution now and in the future.