IWLA’s Patty Senecal Details Los Angeles, Long Beach Port Clean Truck Plans—Key Differences May Trigger Litigation

Patty Senecal

The 2006 Clean Air Action Plan, launched by the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, marked an unprecedented effort to green the San Pedro Bay Ports. While the policy and the businesses of the ports have set strong examples of environmental stewardship, there have been a few snags along the way, including operational differences between Los Angeles’ and Long Beach’s Clean Trucks Programs. In the following VerdeXchange News interview, Patty Senecal, who oversees California governmental affairs for the International Warehouse Logistics Association (IWLA), explains where the two ports’ plans differ and how these disparities may delay the use of clean trucks according to the ports’ ambitious schedule.

VerdeX: You’ve served on task forces on ports and logistics and faster freight, cleaner air for the Mayors of Long Beach and L.A. The port complex has moved to action from those early task-force efforts, and both ports have a clean truck plan, though now they are at odds over details. On what issues do the plans of Long Beach and L.A. ports agree and disagree?

Senecal: The Los Angeles Port adopted their plan on March 20th, 2008 and the Port of Long Beach adopted their plan in February 2008. The primary difference between the plans is the driver work force issue of utilizing owner operator contractors or employee drivers. Long Beach is silent on the issue of who drives the truck, allowing for both contractors and employees to coexist. The Los Angeles plan will eliminate contract drivers within 5 years to be replaced by employee drivers only. Both ports have the same truck ban schedule beginning in October 2008 and the same container fee for trucks and infrastructure.

VerdeX: From the private sector point of view, which you represent, does either plan make a significant contribution to reducing the congestion and the air quality emissions that have challenged the both ports and their communities?

Senecal: Neither plan fixes the inefficiencies of freeway congestion. Our road and bridge infrastructure in California has not kept pace with the population growth or goods movement. The air quality benefits will come when the plans (state or ports) begin implementation. Trucks are, on average, 12.9 years old in the port and 12.2 years old statewide. Thus, this is actually a statewide issue. In December 2007 the California Air Resources Board (CARB) adopted a statewide regulation—a drayage truck regulation that will go into effect on January 1, 2010. The state’s plan applies not just to the port but to Class I Intermodal rail yards within 60 miles of the port facility. The state’s plan is comprehensive and provides for statewide uniformity at the ports and the rails to improve air quality.

Both ports (Los Angeles and Long Beach) wanted to go for earlier reductions so that they could move forward with green expansion projects. Despite their good intentions which push for earlier reductions, the ports’ plans have been delayed for numerous reasons. The clock is ticking for their October 2008 proposed bans. We’re halfway through March, and if the first truck bans are going to hold for October, then there is a lot of work that has to get done between now and October: RFPs for financial institutions, ordering of trucks, contracts, legal reviews, databases, grant processing, insurance, etc. That is a daunting amount of work to be completed by October 2008.

VerdeX: What’s the private sector’s analysis of the two clean truck plans? Which plan is currently preferred by the shipping industry?

Senecal: Private industry prefers a statewide approach so that the regulations would be uniform. The CARB and Long Beach plans are not trying to overturn the 30-year-old intermodal business model. The Port of Long Beach (POLB) plan is a living document and industry is working with the POLB to advance our common goals of clean trucks as soon as possible.

VerdeX: Who makes up the membership of the IWLA, especially the transport part of your membership? How will your members respond to the two ports’ separately adopted plans and mandates?

Senecal: California goods movement logistics and transportation providers are learning that it is not just about diesel particulates anymore—environmental regulations are implementing the deal with climate changes and reducing the carbon footprint of goods movement. Our first response is to communicate with our importers and exporters that new regulations are in place from the state/ports and that freight transportation will cost more in the near future. As a baseline, we have to prepare for the CARB rules that take effect January 1, 2010.

Our members will be applying for grants from the state or the ports that assist the truck owners with truck replacement. The drivers are also currently enrolling in the federally mandated Transportation Worker Identification Credentialing (TWIC), which is going to be a requirement of applying for port truck grants.

Our IWLA members live, work, raise families, and are a part of the community that needs the clean air. We support clean air but also support a sustainable pace for the business community’s transition in order to continue to provide jobs.

VerdeX: How do the port plans differ regarding employee vs. contractor drivers? What predictable impacts will the L.A. Port plan have on your members and allies? And how will implementation impact productivity?

Senecal: The workforce at the nation’s port and rails is comprised of owner-operator drivers. This is definitely not just unique to L.A./L.B. Of the 800,000 for-hire trucks in the national trucking market, 400,000 are owner-operator contractor drivers. There is no legal authority for the Port of L.A. to impose an employee mandate on interstate commerce, thus costly litigation is likely to be triggered and capital improvements and clean air will be delayed.

The distribution centers depend on timely and reliable delivery of inbound and outbound equipment coming in and out of our ports and rails. A primary concern for the distribution centers is truck capacity. Will we have enough drivers and trucks available with the rapid transition to the more costly trucks? Will the region remain competitive? Will cargo shift into other gateways due to uncertainty and risk with this rapid transition? If we move it too fast and eliminate truck capacity, we can crash the system—back up the cargo ships, marine terminals, and trains. Additionally, with the doom of recession and the current soft economy, import cargo volumes have been flat since the second quarter of 2007.

VerdeX: Some commentators have suggested that the Teamsters and some elements of the environmental community have joined with the mayor of Los Angeles to press an employee requirement for all truck drivers. When new schemes are being publicly established, is it not true that, “All’s fair in love and war?”

Senecal: If you have a clean truck, it operates and emits the same whether it’s driven by an employee, owner-operator, union, or a non-union driver. The focus should be on the equipment and fuel conservation, as that is what cleans the air. Industry believes that focusing on those issues provides a better solution. Let the market decide what is faster, more efficient, cost-effective, and more sustainable in meeting the CARB/Port truck replacement schedules.

The structure of the steamship lines over the past ten years has changed. Consolidation and slot chartering among the steamship lines is more common. Containers’ loads and empties are moving between both ports. It will create an operational nightmare to have restrictions on where trucks can and can’t operate based on who is driving the truck. This will reduce the efficiency for cargo movement for terminal operators and truckers. This inefficiency will needlessly increase cost and pollution and reduce the through-put of cargo.

The clean trucks should be able to move seamlessly between both ports. If you’re a customer negotiating with a shipping line, do you now say, “I only want my cargo to come into Long Beach?” It’s about taking a system that has been moving toward efficiency for years, and rolling it backwards with additional cost and inefficiency.

VerdeX: Lastly, will these differences in public policy between the Long Beach and L.A. Port Authorities actually slow implementation of effort to reduce emissions from port operations?

Senecal: The Federal Maritime Commission or 9th District Court may come into play to resolve the differences. However, the move toward port truck replacement is still moving forward with CARB. They are aggressively planning the implementation aspects of their clean air plan, including the creation of a database to register trucks, along with incentive funding to the air districts and agencies. •••