Another Step Taken Toward Cleaner Port Trucks • Long Beach Post

The Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles are poised to take another “lockstep” towards implementing their Clean Truck Program (part of the San Pedro Bay Ports’ Clean Air Action Plan).  Next week each port’s Board of Harbor Commissioners will vote on a “Clean Truck Fee” designed to raise money to pay for less-polluting trucks.  About a month ago, both ports approved a progressive five-year ban on older, more-polluting trucks.

Under the proposed rules (also called tariffs), a $35 fee would be levied on each loaded container leaving or entering either port by truck starting in June 2008.  Fees would be paid by the owner of the cargo being carried, and would be collected by the operator of the marine terminal being used.  Port staff estimate that the fee would generate a total of $1.6 billion.  This money would be used by the Boards of both ports to bring an estimated 16,800 trucks in port drayage service into compliance with 2007 emission standards.  The fees will apply until all trucks in port service meet the standards in about five years.

The fee would not apply to containers moving in and out of the port by rail.  This alone could serve as an incentive to shift cargo from truck to rail, although “on-dock” rail capacity at both ports is limited and locally-bound cargo must move by truck.  The fees will likely be passed on to consumers in the form of slightly higher prices for goods.  In the public policy world, we call this internalizing the external costs.  The “externality” is the pollution from trucks, which is not (now) reflected in the cost of the shipping transaction.  The port tariff, if adopted, will add some of the costs of reducing pollution into the cost of moving and purchasing the goods.

How will the collected money actually be spent to clean up trucks?  That has yet to be specified.  Also, the tariffs make no mention of the controversial issues of issuing concessions to port trucking companies or requiring truckers to become employees rather than contractors.  In October, the federal Maritime Administration wrote a letter to the Executive Directors of both ports warning against such moves because they could disrupt the flow of maritime trade.

A private initiative to move to cleaner trucks is called the Coalition for Responsible Transportation.  The group was formed in the summer of this year by major shipping company NYK Line, retailer Target, and trucking company Total Transportation Services, and now has a few more members.  The companies are partnering to switch the truck fleets they use to cleaner options.  The coalition members’ goal is to demonstrate that truck emissions can be reduced while retaining the current port trucking system, which is based mainly on the use of truck owner-operators.

In the meantime, one program has already successfully replaced 650 San Pedro Bay port trucks at a cost of about $25,000,000.  The program is run by the Gateway Cities Council of Governments and uses funds from the two ports and air regulatory agencies.  (Disclosure:  I am under contract to the Gateway Cities Council of Governments.)

There have also been some recent advances in regulating emissions from ships using the ports.  Ocean-going vessels are one of the largest maritime pollution sources, but because of jurisdictional issues, they are also one of the most difficult to regulate.  I’ll cover those in another post soon.

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