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Diesel emissions down drastically at ports of L.A., Long Beach

The year-old program to replace old cargo trucks has made tremendous progress, with an 80% decline in emissions expected by the end of 2010 -- a year ahead of schedule.

October 02, 2009|Phil Willon

A program to cut diesel emissions at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach by phasing out older cargo trucks is far ahead of schedule, and already has delivered cleaner air to nearby neighborhoods that have been enveloped by fumes, the mayors of both cities said Thursday.

A year after the adjacent ports launched their "clean trucks" program, new, low-emission big rigs now account for about a third of the trucks hauling cargo to and from the complex, the busiest harbors in the nation. Officials said they expect to reduce diesel truck emissions at both ports by 80% by the end of 2010 -- a year ahead of schedule.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said the program has reduced diesel truck emissions at his city's port by 70% compared with levels in 2007, and that 5,500 of the 14,000 trucks visiting the port are now low-emission big rigs. Long Beach has roughly the same number of clean trucks operating, its mayor said.

"This is the most successful effort to clean a port in the world," Villaraigosa said. "I mean, think about it. Nobody thought it was possible to retrofit 5,000 trucks in a year, and we're at 5,500 and growing."

The clean trucks program is a major component of a much broader effort to reduce diesel emissions at the port complex, one of the top sources of pollution in Southern California. Port pollution has been blamed for increased rates of cancer, asthma and other serious health ailments for nearby residents.

Villaraigosa and Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster released the figures during a news conference at the Port of Long Beach on Thursday, when U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson announced that $26.5 million in federal grants would soon go to clean air programs across Southern California.

Last October, the ports banned all trucks built in or before 1988, and started to charge trucks that failed to meet 2007 air pollution standards a $70 fee every time they hauled cargo to and from the ports. Starting in 2010, trucks built in or before 1994 will be excluded.

Villaraigosa vowed to continue a legal fight to retain a controversial clean truck provision that has been suspended by the courts. The provision prohibits drivers at the Port of Los Angeles from being independent contractors, requiring instead that they become employees of trucking companies.

The requirement, which was expected to make it easier for truckers to unionize, was strongly supported by the mayor and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The Port of Long Beach did not include that restriction in its program.

Villaraigosa said the ban was necessary because most independent truckers cannot afford to buy the new, cleaner big rigs -- which cost more than $100,000 -- which could impede the process of ridding the ports of old diesel-belching trucks.

"That's just false," Clayton Boyce, spokesman for the American Trucking Assn., said in an interview after the mayors' event. "They're independent business people; they know how to buy a truck and finance it. He knows nothing about trucking. Before he was mayor, he was a union organizer, so that's what he knows: organizing."

The trucking association filed a federal legal challenge to block that provision and won a federal stay allowing independent truckers to handle cargo at the Port of Los Angeles until the case goes to trial next year.

The dramatic reduction in truck emissions at the port, while independent truckers are still working there, shows the ban is unnecessary, Boyce said. "If it was true, they wouldn't be way ahead of schedule," he added.

Foster agreed, saying that both trucking companies and independent truckers have been switching to new, low-emission trucks.

"Driver status has nothing to do with cleaning the air," Foster said. "In terms of a clean air program, it adds nothing. . . . In fact, it jeopardizes it" because of the legal challenge.


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