3rd group joins call for federal scrutiny of SoCal portsÆ truck plan
One of the nation's leading trucking associations on Thursday slammed recent actions by Southern California ports officials and became the third industry group in two weeks to call for a federal investigation into the ports' proposed $1.8 billion trucking re-regulation plan.
The Intermodal Motor Carriers Conference, an affiliate of the American Trucking Association that represents 37,000 U.S. motor carriers, expressed its opposition to the truck program for the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles in a letter sent Thursday to head of the Federal Maritime Commission. The IMCC restated its intentions to sue the ports if the truck plan is implemented and also offered support for a recent letter from two shipping and freight industry groups to the FMC calling for a federal review of the ports' truck plan.
Last week, the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association and the National Industrial Transportation League asked FMC officials to examine the ports' truck plan for what the groups describe as 'legal, logistical and anticompetitive impacts that will cause immediate economic harm.' In the 14-page letter, the PMSA, which represents 90 percent of the West Coast shipping lines, and the NIT League, which represents more than 700 transportation firms, also detail their assertions that the ports, during development of the truck plan, have committed multiple violations of the Shipping Act.
The IMCC, in Thursday's letter to the FMC, said the fact that port officials 'would attempt to require the total restructuring of a federally deregulated industry that has successfully adapted to meet the ever increasing maritime freight demands generated by today's global marketplace — and done so operating under often inefficient operating procedures which these same ports have done virtually nothing to improve — is abhorrent.'
The ports' Clean Truck Program, slated to start Jan. 1, would ban access to the ports' terminals by truckers not obtaining a license from the ports. Trucking companies agreeing to port-defined criteria covering financial, labor and environmental status would be allowed to buy a license from the ports and continue operating. Port-licensed pre-2007 model year trucks would pay a 'truck impact fee' for each gate entry at the terminals. This money would go toward replacing or retrofitting port-licensed trucks to bring them up to the 2007 standard. The ports would also contribute money, and potential bond revenue funds from the state were integral in the plan's funding development. The ports claim the plan, if fully implemented, would eliminate up to 45 percent of port-generated truck emissions by 2012.
Trucking firms must also agree to hire only employees, not independent owner-operators, to obtain a port license.
A major component of the ports' omnibus Clean Air Action Plan, and originally set to be approved by the ports' policy-setting boards in July, the truck plan has been slated for approval several times by the ports, only to be withdrawn. Insiders at the ports report that dissatisfaction with the employee-only portion of the plan is growing among some harbor commissioners, though publicly the two governing commissions still express their full commitment to the plan, including the Jan. 1 start date.
The IMCC told the FMC in Thursday's letter that 'the ports would have you believe that this debate is only about clean air and health. However, the ports' scheme goes far beyond the environmental and health objectives outlined in their Clean Air Action Plan and amounts to a mandated restructuring of the port drayage business under the guise of environmental improvements.'
The group also reiterated its public comments that it intends to sue the ports if the truck plan is implemented.
The letter, citing recent information-gathering visits to the Southern California ports by FMC staff regarding the truck plan, asks that the federal agency 'should take an immediate and active oversight role in this critical national policy debate.'
The letter is the latest in a string of recent criticism over the truck plan that has seemingly built to a critical mass in the past several weeks.
Early last week, the author of the ports' own economic impact report on the truck plan told a transportation industry audience that the plan as written could result in chaos within the local port trucking industry. John Husing, a prominent Southern California economist, said that truck driver positions, support jobs and back office staff would all suffer under the ports' truck plan. Husing's analysis, which was presented to port officials several weeks ago, found that 376 trucking companies would vanish if the ports' plan was implemented, along with just over 2,250 back office and support jobs.
In addition, Husing told the audience that implementation of the program will likely result in more than a 50 percent short-term reduction in the port truck fleet, an 80 percent increase in shipping costs for surviving firms and 'a slowly building crisis as lack of drivers and trucks means containers are not delivered on time.'
Two weeks ago, the Natural Resources Defense Council, once a staunch proponent of the ports' environmental efforts, criticized Long Beach and Los Angeles port officials for the slow progress on environmental programs. The group said the ports were breaking their 'green' promises and falling behind in implementing various environmental programs of the Clean Air Action Plan. The largest component of the CAAP is the truck re-regulation plan.
David Pettit, director of NRDC's Southern California Air Program, said that while his group originally supported the ports' creation and adoption of the CAAP plan, that was the easy part for the ports.
'The implementation is where you show commitment,' Pettit said, 'and, unfortunately, the ports are slipping further and further behind.'
The letter came just days after the ports cancelled the third scheduled attempt to hold a joint meeting of both ports' boards to approve the truck plan.