Long Beach port shelves truck plan vote, MarAd weighs in
Port of Long Beach officials Monday shelved a scheduled vote to approve a scaled-down port trucking overhaul plan, citing conflicts with the Port of Los Angeles and an absent board member for the action.
The move comes as a letter from U.S. Maritime Administrator Sean Connaughton revealed possible motivation for the ports' sudden urgency in passing the smaller version of the truck plan.
The scaled-down version of the plan, developed in concert with the neighboring port of Los Angeles, seeks to change the governing bylaws of the two ports, forcing marine terminal operators to ban certain model year trucks carrying cargo into and out of the ports. By banning the trucks, the ports seek to change the makeup of the 16,800-strong port truck fleet to newer and less emissive models.
On Oct. 25, both ports released identical changes to their separate tariffs with Long Beach originally set to vote Monday and the Los Angeles harbor commission to vote Thursday. After the close of Long Beach port office hours on Friday evening, Los Angeles officials quietly — and without public notification — amended the language of their tariff proposal. The Los Angeles changes sharply deviate, in implementation dates and in the specific truck models to be banned, from the Long Beach version.
At least some of the Long Beach commissioners were still unaware of the move by Los Angeles port officials within two hours of Monday's scheduled vote. At least one Long Beach commissioner was made aware of the Los Angeles changes by reading Monday's American Shipper's NewsWire detailing the Los Angeles port's action. Even by the start of the staff noon lunch hour at Long Beach, with less than an hour to go before Monday's 1 p.m. meeting, many Long Beach staff members were still unaware that the item was going to be pulled.
A similar situation occurred with the public. Nearly 100 people who showed up to address the board on the truck plan were disappointed to find out within moments of the meeting's start that the item had being pulled.
Later in the meeting, former Harbor Commission President James Hankla told those in attendance that the item had been pulled for 'a variety of reasons,' but did not elaborate.
Reasons for the delay were spelled out in a press release issued by the Long Beach public relations staff several hours after the meeting.
In the release, Commission President Mario Cordero said the inconsistencies created by the Los Angeles changes were a primary reason for the shelving of the vote. Another reason cited was that one of the five-member board, Nick Sramek, was absent. While the Long Beach City Charter requires at least three board members for a quorum, there are hundreds of previous examples of one commissioner being absent and the remaining four commissioners approving major policy items.
The original truck plan was introduced by the two ports in March, with a scheduled start date of Jan. 1. The truck plan, part of the ports' omnibus Clean Air Action Plan adopted last November, was set for votes by the port boards several times since the summer and pulled. The individual regulatory components of the CAAP have required each port to approve individual, but to date, identical language.
Under the original plan the ports were to determine who could and could not operate a truck in the ports by issuing operating licenses to port-area trucking firms. The licensing plan would use ports-defined criteria to only allow those trucking firms with 'deep pockets' access to Southern California port facilities, according to statements by port officials. Through the use of a multiyear rolling ban introduced each Jan. 1 over the next five years, older trucks would be banned outright from operating in the ports. The plan was also supposed to set up a system to charge a terminal access fee to all pre-2007 model year trucks with port licenses that have not been banned. These funds, along with port and taxpayer funds, would be used to provide funds to the same licensed trucking firms to replace or retrofit their truck fleets with 2007 or newer model year vehicles.
One of the most controversial portions of the original plan called for the licensing criteria to be used to mandate that all drivers be employees, thus eliminating all independent owner-operators working in the ports. The licensing and employee-only regulations have been the focus of much of the ire of more than 40 transportation organizations that have come out in opposition to the plan.
During Monday's Long Beach meeting, Hankla responded to criticism that the ports have delayed too long on approving environmental plans and seemed to express frustration at the delays caused by the employee-only model as part of the truck plan.
'The adoption of the CAAP has been delayed specifically because it was tied up with an employee-only mandate,' Hankla told the audience. 'I think that is what has delayed the CAAP to this point, by perhaps as much as six months. That is something that needs to be said, and I am delighted that I am the one who said it.'
Also on Monday, American Shipper obtained a letter of concern from MarAd's Connaughton to the executive directors of both ports, dated Oct. 23 — two days before the ports' Oct. 25 announcements of this week's votes on the truck plan.
The letter lauds the environmental goals of the ports' truck plan and offers the maritime agency's assistance.
However, Connaughton writes, 'I am concerned that the environmental benefits of reducing truck-source emissions not be lost or dilute by needless litigation or inadvertent impairment of the flow of the nation's commerce.'
Several major trucking industry groups have already indicated that they would sue the ports if the truck plan as written in March would be implemented. None of the firms have indicated that the new truck ban component would necessarily trigger a lawsuit, though most are still reviewing details of the truck plan.
In the letter, Connaughton offers direction to the ports' efforts and a warning: 'Solutions may lie in the phase-in of certain elements of the plan, or even postponing parts of the plan pending monitoring of results. Some proposed regulatory elements (i.e., those that apply to independent owner-operators and thereby restrict market competition, or the collection of fees for projects outside of port jurisdiction) may be beyond the power of local legal authority and result in litigation.'
While the letter may have provided the ports with motivation, port staff had been working on details of the tariff changes since shortly after Oct. 12.
Last month, three major goods movement groups asked MarAd's sister agency, the Federal Maritime Commission, to investigate the two ports' truck plan as then envisioned. While the FMC has not arrived at any conclusion, the simple fact that they are investigating the truck plan indicates the serious national implications.