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High court strikes down part of LA Port anti-smog program

The portion of the program that was struck down would have required motor carriers to replace thousands of aging rigs with newer, cleaner-burning models. (Associated Press)

The Trucker News Services


WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court has overturned part of the anti-smog program at the Port of Los Angeles.

The port tried to restrict the types of trucks that can haul goods in and out of its terminals. But justices voted unanimously Thursday to strike down part of the port's Clean Trucks Program.

The American Trucking Associations took the port to court over the program.

Under the part of the program overturned, motor carriers would have been required to replace thousands of aging big rigs with newer, cleaner-burning models to reduce diesel emissions.

The high court said federal law pre-empts the port's decision to make companies develop an off-street parking plan and display designated signs on their vehicles.

But the court did not say whether the port could use other parts of the agreement with truckers to punish violations of other provisions it left intact.

“We are gratified that, at the conclusion of many years of litigation, the highest court in the land unanimously agreed with ATA on these rules. Our position has always been that the port’s attempt to regulate drayage operators – in ways that had nothing to do with its efforts to improve air quality at the Port – was inconsistent with Congress’ command that the trucking industry be shaped by market forces, rather than an incompatible patchwork of state and local regulations,” said ATA President and CEO Bill Graves. “The decision is sure to send a signal to any other cities who may have been considering similar programs which would impermissibly regulate the port trucking industry.”

At issue was the Port's attempt to impose so-called “concession agreements” on drayage operators wishing to move goods in and out of the port, Graves said, noting that the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act prohibits the enforcement of any state or local “law, regulation, or other provision having the force and effect of law related to a price, route, or service of any motor carrier.”

The ATA said in a news release that the question before the Supreme Court was whether certain provisions of the concession agreements that undisputedly “related to a price, route, or service” of motor carriers nevertheless escaped preemption because the Port asserted that it imposed these requirements to serve its “business interest” in expanding the Port, rather than in an effort to regulate the drayage market.

In an opinion authored by Justice Elena Kagan, a unanimous Supreme Court rejected the port’s contention.

The court concluded that, whatever the port’s asserted motivation, the concession agreements amounted to “classic regulatory authority” and thus fell within the scope of the FAAAA’s preemption provision. It observed that the concession agreements, while technically contracts between the port and trucking companies, were not the “result merely of the parties’ voluntary commitments.”  Rather, the port compelled trucking companies to enter into the contracts as a condition of access to the port, by “wielding coercive power over private parties, backed by the threat of criminal punishment.”

By imposing the concession agreements through coercion rather than “ordinary bargaining,” Los Angeles was “performing its prototypical regulatory role,” the ruling said.

The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at editor@thetrucker.com.

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