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Agency objects to clean truck program

The Federal Maritime Commission seeks to eliminate parts of the anti-pollution effort.

October 30, 2008|Ronald D. White | White is a Times staff writer.

The Federal Maritime Commission said Wednesday that it would ask a U.S. District Court to strike down parts of a landmark pollution-control program at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the nation's busiest international cargo complex.

Elements of the ports' clean truck program "are likely, by a reduction in competition, to produce an unreasonable increase in transportation cost or unreasonable reduction in service," the commission said in a statement.

Among the provisions to which the commission objects is the Los Angeles port's requirement that truck drivers work for approved concessionaires. Before the program began Oct. 1, port truck transportation was dominated by thousands of independent owner operators.

Long Beach still allows independent truckers to work at its port.

The commission's 2-1 vote Wednesday to ask a federal court in Washington to issue an injunction against parts of the ports' program puts the anti-pollution effort in jeopardy despite legal victories in a separate federal court battle in California brought by the American Trucking Assn.

The normally low-profile commission is perhaps one of the most powerful regulatory entities in Washington that most Americans have never heard of.

Under the federal Shipping Act of 1984, the agency has the right to intervene when it thinks unfair competitive restrictions or unduly expensive mandates have been placed on international commerce.

But the commission also made it clear Wednesday that it wasn't seeking to overturn every aspect of the plan that began this month with barring of the oldest and dirtiest trucks built before 1989. In 2012, only trucks that meet 2007 emissions standards will be allowed to enter the ports.

"The commission believes that the surgical removal of substantially anti-competitive elements of the agreement, such as the employee mandate, will permit the ports to implement on schedule those elements of the CTP that produce clean air and improve public health," the commission majority wrote.

The goal of the clean truck program is to eliminate tons of particulates and other pollution from local skies. It is a major component of the Clean Air Action Plan designed to slash overall emissions at the ports by 45% by 2012.

Officials of the twin ports hope that the pollution-control efforts will persuade environmentalists to stop throwing legal roadblocks in the way of expansion projects.

Supporters of the clean truck program reacted angrily to the maritime commission's decision.

"The commission is siding with a filthy industry and blocking the path to clean air and public health," said Peter Lehner, executive director of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, said, "Two commissioners in Washington, D.C., should not make a decision behind closed doors to ruin clean air for all Southern Californians."

Geraldine Knatz, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles, said port officials were "confident that the federal court in the District of Columbia will reject the Federal Maritime Commission's attempt to block the clean truck program and allow the most ambitious air pollution cleanup initiative in the nation to continue to take dirty diesel trucks off the road and remove harmful emissions from our air."

Long Beach port spokesman Art Wong said he couldn't comment on the maritime commission's move until he saw what the agency filed in court.

"We're just not sure how this will affect us," Wong said.

At least one community activist wasn't optimistic that the cleaner trucks would reduce pollution in the long run because independent owner operators would have trouble making enough money to maintain their vehicles properly.

"That might work for a few years, but then we would be right back where we started," said Kathleen Woodfield, vice president of the San Pedro and Peninsula Homeowners Coalition.

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ron.white@latimes.com

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