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Judge restricts ports’ truck plan

In a victory for independent truckers, a federal judge on Wednesday blocked part of a program to cut diesel emissions by phasing out 17,000 old big rigs at the nation’s busiest port complex.

U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder’s preliminary injunction halted some new rules, including one that prohibits drivers at the Port of Los Angeles from being independent contractors. That was a provision sought by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

But supporters of the nation’s most ambitious effort to clean the air around a major seaport complex said that the most important part of the plan -- bringing in newer and cleaner trucks -- would proceed.

“We are still banning older trucks and collecting the clean-truck fee to fund replacement trucks,” said Richard D. Steinke, executive director of the Port of Long Beach. “That allows us to achieve our goal of cleaning the air and protecting the health of our community.”

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Villaraigosa said he was “pleased that the heart of the clean-truck program is in place and we’re moving full steam ahead with removing dirty diesel trucks from our communities and harmful pollutants from our air.”

Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Geraldine Knatz said the port was “committed to implementing the most sustainable program possible.”

Some major issues remain unresolved.

Left for consideration is just how much of the ports’ original plan can be used to decide which trucking companies and independent operators may ply their trade at the ports.

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Snyder called a halt to the Port of Los Angeles’ plan to require all independent drivers to become employees of trucking companies with concession agreements and to the Port of Long Beach’s stipulation that concessionaires prove that they have informed drivers about available health insurance programs. Also left undecided is whether the ports will have to return concession fees that have already been collected.

Some said that the effort to clean the air at the ports could suffer significant delays. That’s in part because there are doubts about whether independent drivers can earn enough to replace their older rigs.

“Without the employee program, port cleanup goals could be severely delayed because most independent owner-operators cannot afford to maintain and repair their trucks,” the Natural Resources Defense Council said in a statement.

But some independent drivers have said that they prefer the freedom to set their own hours and pace of work, which they would lose if they were forced to become employees.

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ron.white@latimes.com


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