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Amy Traub

Clean Trucks: Stalled in New York

Less air pollution. More jobs capable of supporting a family. A more efficient use of taxpayer dollars. Those are the benefits the New York City Council is asking the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the U.S. Congress to consider in a new resolution to promote the adoption of a New York-area Clean Truck Program modeled on a successful policy in Los Angeles.

I spoke in support of the resolution this afternoon, telling the Waterfronts Committee:

In August, the U.S. District Court lifted its injunction on the Los Angeles Clean Truck Program. Their judicial reasoning can do a great deal to inform good policy in New York. The Court ruled that the program was not preempted by federal law because the Port of Los Angeles was acting in its own proprietary business interest “to sustain and promote port operations” rather than setting regulatory policy. In essence, the Port of Los Angeles was making a prudent business decision, adopting the most efficient means to mitigate air pollution that “jeopardized the Port’s continued viability as a commercial enterprise” in the words of the Court.

Speaking at a Drum Major Institute event in autumn 2008, Port Authority Executive Director Christopher Ward acknowledged similar business pressures at the Ports of New York and New Jersey. Mr. Ward noted that if reducing truck pollution was not “part of the solution for the port, we will have no growth and we will end up losing the very engine that creates the jobs.” In other words, our ports also have a clear proprietary interest in measures like L.A.’s employee-driver provision that create an efficient and sustainable model for reducing truck emissions.

When he addressed the Drum Major Institute, Mr. Ward also vowed to “take the lessons learned that L.A. and Long Beach have provided.” Two years later, it’s not clear that these lessons have been learned at our ports.

The data provided by the Coalition for Healthy Ports is powerful: the Port of Los Angeles used $44 million in public funds to leverage private investment and get 8,500 clean trucks on the road. In New York and New Jersey, the plan is to use $32 million in taxpayer funds to replace 700 or fewer trucks. Without commenting on how far advanced the Port Authority’s program is now, it’s clear that the plan going forward represents a less efficient use of public resources than we saw in Los Angeles.

The New York/New Jersey truck replacement program is less efficient because it dumps public money on top of a broken employment model rather than restructuring port operations to make the funds work effectively. As a result, we are trying to make thousands of individual low-income port truck drivers take on the burden of improving air quality rather than demanding accountability from the large companies that profit most from the operation of our ports, as Los Angeles does.

Again, the recent District Court case is illuminating. The judge notes that “the employee driver provision was designed to transfer the financial burden of administration and record keeping onto the trucking companies instead of the Port… and [to] protect the Port’s investment in clean trucks.” Yet this key portion of the Los Angeles model is not being replicated at the ports of New York and New Jersey. It is significant that this resolution specifically calls on the Port Authority to do so, noting that “the responsibility for cleaning the air near ports should belong to the trucking companies who have the financial stability to purchase and maintain newer and cleaner trucks.”

Let me close by saying that in the wake of the federal court decision, Congress’ Clean Ports Act of 2010 remains a critical piece of legislation. First, it will uphold ports’ ability to establish policies like the Clean Truck Program in their public capacity as regulators – not merely as entities that participate in the marketplace. No less significantly, enacting this law would bolster the political will of ports, like those here in New York and New Jersey, that have been timid about emulating the successful Port of Los Angeles model. The fact that this resolution calls on both Congress and the Port Authority to act is judicious.

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Posted at 4:17 PM, Oct 28, 2010 in Environmental Justice | Labor
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