A nationwide coalition of over 150 environmental, labor, business, consumer advocacy, public health, faith, and community organizations has applauded Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and 50 other House members from 15 states for reintroducing legislation to protect clean truck programs and reduce harmful air pollution that meets bipartisan goals for a U.S. transportation reauthorization bill: accelerate the speed and success of clean fleet turnover plans, lower public health costs for taxpayers, pave the way for massive, job-creating infrastructure projects, and help propel America’s struggling blue-collar workers.
The Clean Ports Act of 2011 would further advance the trucking and shipping industry’s desire to make U.S. trade hubs more efficient, as well as help address a key Obama Administration priority: recoup lost state and federal tax revenue by curbing illegal worker misclassification.
“This bill is a simple way for Washington to help local governments reduce emissions, boost the green job sector, improve public health, and help responsible businesses grow and compete as part of a national economic recovery strategy, and it belongs in the transportation reauthorization bill,” said David Foster, Executive Director of the BlueGreen Alliance. “We commend Rep. Nadler and look forward to working with both chambers of Congress to remove this barrier to progress.”
Mr. Nadler is a ranking member of the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee. The U.S. EPA estimates 87 million Americans who live near ports are subjected to the preventable, costly, and fatal health consequences of diesel soot – asthma, cancer, and heart disease – while poor air quality is a top reason to stall job-creating infrastructure projects. Pollution from trucks is a major culprit.
Supporters of federal action include the mayors of Los Angeles, New York, Newark, Oakland, and Seattle. Local, state, and national groups as diverse as Sierra Club, New Jersey Environmental Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Center for Environmental Health, GreenFaith and Church Council of Greater Seattle have joined with multi-million dollar waterfront businesses like Crowley Maritime Corporation and American Stevedoring Inc. to support the bill as well.
The Clean Ports Act specifically makes clear that an obscure provision in the 30-year-old Federal Motor Carrier Act does not prohibit local port officials from exercising their existing regulatory authority to clean up trucking operations and create financial incentives to jump start an alternative-fuel economy. While a federal court has recently confirmed this authority, a Beltway trucking lobby with ties to Big Oil has mounted an expensive, lengthy legal challenge to unravel the nation’s most successful program for slashing heavy-duty diesel-truck emissions, forcing other local officials to put similar comprehensive plans on hold.
The Ports of Los Angeles and Oakland and the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey – which together handle over a third of the nation’s container volume annually – are among those major ports advocating for federal legislation.
“Our collective failure to protect the public from diesel pollution is a moral outrage and a shame on our nation. Fortunately, the Obama Administration appreciates that Americans want and deserve clean air and the sustainable jobs that accompany it,” said Carl Pope, Chairman of the Sierra Club. In the case of Los Angeles, there’s a proven track record of success. “Congress should embrace this local green-growth model and take action to protect it.”
In 2008, Los Angeles officials sought to end the market failure that has earned U.S. seaports the notorious reputation as “the place where old trucks go to die.” Lax oversight allows some 5,000 port trucking companies nationwide to skirt tax laws and push all the costs of doing business onto their drivers by misclassifying them as independent contractors. Accordingly, new research shows that the typical port truck driver – who previously held a middle-class job – works 59 hours per week with average net earnings before FICA, income, and other taxes of $28,783, making it no surprise that this workforce can only afford to haul in the oldest, most decrepit clunkers. Ninety-five percent of our nation’s 110,000 port trucks fail to meet current EPA emission standards.
“If these drivers were in a position to purchase and care for environmentally-friendly trucks with their current wages, the air pollution that threatens to impede our growth and efficiency wouldn’t be an issue in the first place,” said Matt Yates, Director of Commercial Operations for American Stevedoring, Inc. “Modernizing the port is a long-term investment that merits real capital and real commitment between port authorities and private businesses – not workers behind the wheel.”
The LA Clean Truck Program, endorsed by Federal Maritime Commission Chair Richard Lidinsky, Jr. and the EPA, was developed to shift the financial burden of fleet replacement off the backs of individual workers and onto the broad shoulders of the powerful logistics industry – with a negligible effect on consumer prices.
Los Angeles’ attractive financial incentives leveraged $600 million in private investment from both small and large trucking companies to put nearly 7,000 clean diesel and alternative-fuel vehicles in service. Other key operational standards encouraged thousands of drivers to eagerly retire their old polluting rigs in exchange for jobs that promised set hourly wages, company-owned clean vehicles, and workplace protections that come with legitimate employment.
Officials announced a near 80 percent reduction in emissions and struggling local truck manufacturers saw business up by one-third, but the American Trucking Associations gutted the award-winning program in U.S. District court to keep the status quo. As the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals considers the case, many haulers at the nation’s largest port complex report that their earnings have dropped below minimum wage because a once-transforming industry is now deducting the truck payments and other operation costs straight from their paychecks via lease scams recently chronicled on the front page of the Los Angeles Times.
Said Alex Mejia, who was featured in the Times’ expose: “Now drivers are being forced to pay for the company’s new clean truck, but I can already tell you that these trucks are not going to stay ‘clean’ for much longer – we just can’t afford the maintenance. I’m basically working double shifts and I still have to choose between buying milk or replacing a filter. Congress can make sure these companies are playing by the rules, otherwise the clean air programs are going to fail and drivers like me will continue to live in poverty.”