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Truckers on board with clean-air plans

Freight haulers sign up to participate in the programs they've gone to court to try to stop.

September 06, 2008|Ronald D. White | Times Staff Writer

Following weeks of worry about whether they could meet their own deadlines, Los Angeles and Long Beach port officials said Friday that they were closing in on having enough trucking companies lined up to get their clean-air programs off the ground in October.

The landmark anti-pollution efforts seek initially to rid the nation's two busiest container ports of the worst polluting trucks, which are at least 20 years old. Both ports' plans, which take different approaches to how the truck fleets will be organized, still face many hurdles, including a federal lawsuit.

A shortage of trucks ready to go on the Oct. 1 start date would have resulted in "utter chaos" at the ports, said Jack Kyser, senior economist with the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.

Geraldine Knatz, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles, said the port had received applications from more than 120 carriers representing more than 8,000 trucks, including more than 5,400 that could be ready Oct. 1.

"I'm confident we will have enough," Knatz said. "There are still a number of challenges. We may be jury-rigging some things to make it work at first, but getting enough trucks has been one of the major hurdles."

Several applicants were small trucking companies with 10 or fewer rigs in their fleets, she said.

The Port of Los Angeles plan requires that trucks be operated by company concessions that hire the drivers, many of whom are now independent owner-operators, as employees. Long Beach's plan works with existing companies and drivers, and officials there also were confident they could meet the October deadline.

"We'll have more than enough," Port of Long Beach spokesman Art Wong said. Companies that qualify to serve the Los Angeles port also can work the Long Beach port, he said.

The plans are opposed by the American Trucking Assn., even while some of its members are applying to be part of the port programs, as well as by national retailers who rely on those same trucks to deliver their goods.

The 37,000-member trucking association has filed suit in federal court in Los Angeles seeking an injunction against the two port plans, arguing in part that they amount to local entities broadly overstepping their authority and trying to regulate interstate commerce and international trade. Opponents also contend that thousands of low-income drivers will lose their jobs.

"What they are doing just underscores our point that they are trying to squeeze out individual drivers and existing motor carriers," said Curtis Whelan, an executive with the American Trucking Assn.

And while the National Retail Federation was pleased "that we may not be looking at a truck shortage," said Erik Autor, its vice president and international trade counsel, the group was still hoping for an injunction to stop the plans.

"Many of our members have a lot at stake here," Autor said. "If there are any disruptions in service, it would have a very detrimental impact on their businesses."

Environmentalist David Pettit was encouraged by the ports' progress in lining up trucks to participate.

"The fact that small and large trucking companies want to do business under the ports' concession plans shows that the ATA's claims of doom and gloom are empty scare tactics," said Pettit, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "If some of ATA's members don't want to dance at the party, plenty of others will."

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ron.white@latimes.com

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