Public health, labor groups decry harbor panel’s air plan

Times Staff Writer

Over the objections of environmental, public health and labor organizations, the Long Beach harbor commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved a clean-air plan that continues to place the burden of owning and maintaining diesel big rigs on drivers rather than on shipping companies that hire them.

Port authorities called the move a “victory for clean air” and a final element of a clean trucks program that will replace and modernize the entire fleet of trucks serving the Long Beach ports.

The vote by the Board of Harbor Commissioners followed a six-hour meeting marked by emotional testimonies from dozens of drivers.

The truckers said they could not afford to buy or maintain new trucks and urged the port to compel shipping companies to hire the drivers.


Also testifying before the board were representatives of the Natural Resources Defense Council and the American Lung Assn., who blasted the plan as a “tarted-up” version of the current system, which allows trucking companies to use employee drivers, independent contractor drivers or a combination of the two.

As a result, the representatives argued, commodities are kept low at the expense of drivers. They criticized the board for passing the plan without the support of the Port of Los Angeles Board of Commissioners.

A letter to the board from the Natural Resources Defense Council said, “Perhaps the most glaring flaw in the port’s program is the lack of its key partner and neighbor, the Port of Los Angeles.”

“If Los Angeles decides to go in a different direction in its clean-trucks program, the result could be chaos at the ports,” the letter said. “Staff has failed to address what will happen if a Long Beach-approved truck is not allowed access to the Port of Los Angeles or vice versa.”

Long Beach board members, however, said they worried about the health risks of delaying the program. They also questioned their authority to force a company to hire drivers. “I’m not entirely comfortable with the proposal,” said board President Mario Cordero. “But time is of the essence.”