LOS ANGELES — The ban on dirty trucks at the Port of Los Angeles violates federal law that prohibits states and local entities from regulating interstate commerce, attorneys for the trucking industry said Tuesday in opening statements in a federal trial.
The case pits the American Trucking Associations against the nation’s busiest port over its Clean Truck Program, which was launched in 2008 to reduce diesel emissions by banning the dirtiest trucks from carrying port cargo.
ATA attorney Robert Digges said the requirement would reduce the number of haulers at the port by prohibiting truck companies from contracting with independent drivers.
The ATA said it supports clean air goals, but it opposes a provision in the plan that prohibits truck companies from contracting with independent drivers.
Instead, independent drivers would be required to become employees of trucking companies no later than the end of 2012.
Attorney Steven Rosenthal, who represents the port, said the city can impose new rules because they directly influence “safety and security” at the port.
“The program was intended to address safety and security concerns,” Rosenthal said, adding the regulation was not intended “to exclude small operators.”
Supporters of the program said individual truckers cannot afford to purchase and maintain the cleaner-burning big rigs, which can cost more than $100,000.
“If independent drivers had the resources they needed, we wouldn’t need a clean trucks program to begin with, so the burden should be on the shoulders of the trucking companies,” said David Pettit, an attorney for the National Resources Defense Council.
The new trucks have been partly subsidized by container fees paid by cargo owners. Supporters assert that the rule is needed to sustain the program in the long run.
The trucking industry argues the rule violates federal law that has long prevented state and local regulation of interstate trucking prices, routes and services. It claims the employee mandate would allow unions to organize drivers at the port, and that unionization will lead to reduced competition and increased transportation cost.
“The person who loses in the end would be the consumer because the current system provides better service at lower prices,” said Clayton Boyce, a spokesman for the ATA.
The program, which phases out older truck models until they meet stringent 2007 federal truck emission standards, so far has resulted in a 70 percent reduction in diesel emissions, according to port officials.
The lawsuit was filed about two years ago. A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction blocking the program’s employee mandate at the ATA’s request.
Kevin Jones of The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at email@example.com.
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