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Let’s get truckin’

Monday is shaping up to be a bad day for the Teamsters, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and a handful of environmental groups, whose efforts to unionize port truckers will probably be squelched by a federal judge. That’s just as well, but we’re afraid the mayor and his union backers won’t take no for an answer.

The clean-truck program at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, a long-overdue attempt to reduce the diesel pollution that sickens and kills thousands of Angelenos every year, forces truckers to buy cleaner, more modern vehicles and imposes a fee on shipping containers that pass through the ports in order to help pay for them. None of that is controversial, and if that were all the program did, it wouldn’t be enriching an armada of lawyers. But it also contains concession agreements that the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has determined will probably be ruled unconstitutional.

At the Port of Los Angeles, the program would eliminate independent truckers, insisting that they all be employees of drayage companies by 2013 (opening the door for the Teamsters to unionize them). The Port of Long Beach doesn’t insist on employee truckers, but it does impose other requirements that may not pass legal muster. That’s because U.S. law forbids local jurisdictions from making rules that affect the price, route or service of motor carriers.

In response to a lawsuit by the American Trucking Assn., U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder refused to issue an injunction against the ports’ concession agreements because of a loophole in the federal law: States are still allowed to impose safety requirements on trucks. But the appeals court overruled her, finding that few provisions of the concession agreements have anything to do with vehicle safety, and it remanded the case to Snyder for her to move forward consistent with that ruling. On Monday, Snyder is slated to issue a new ruling, and is widely expected to halt the employee-trucker plan this time around.

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There’s nothing wrong with unionizing truckers -- and certainly not with efforts to clean up the ports -- but this approach has tried to accomplish too much. Despite the arguments of the proponents, there was never a compelling need to eliminate independent truckers, a move that would simplify record-keeping for port officials but do nothing to clean the air. Unfortunately, backers of this ill-conceived effort say that if they can’t win in court, they’ll lobby Congress to change the law, an interminable process that promises only to heighten confusion in the trucking industry and potentially delay compliance with the ports’ clean-engine rules.

We have a better idea: Let it go. The ports should do what this page repeatedly urged them to do when crafting the clean-truck program -- work with the trucking industry, which has no objection to the initiative’s environmental requirements, to come up with a plan that cuts pollution without interfering with interstate commerce. That wouldn’t be hard to do, if politicians, labor leaders and environmental activists would stop putting up roadblocks.


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