Thursday, October 22, 2009

Long Beach Port Exec Slams NRDC Criticism

Port of Long Beach Executive Director Richard Steinke on Wednesday issued a public statement slamming critics of a decision by port officials earlier this week to settle industry legal challenges against the port's Clean Truck Program.

"The recent settlement of a legal challenge to the Port of Long Beach’s Clean Trucks Program is good news, not only for the port, but also for the cause of clean air," said Steinke.

"Why? Because the lawsuit was a potential roadblock. The settlement, however, clears the way for the port and the trucking industry to move forward, together, with a program that has been highly successful in reducing air pollution."

Steinke said that despite the port feeling that the legal settlement is a positive step, "we’re facing criticism from one of the nation’s largest environmental groups, the Natural Resources Defense Council, which says we’re abandoning our environmental goals by settling this lawsuit. That is simply false."

According to Steinke, on Jan. 1, 2010, the port will be nearly two years ahead of schedule with the truck program.

Steinke points out that the NRDC praised the truck program in a press release less than a month ago when the program celebrated its one-year anniversary of implementation.

"The NRDC’s real objection to our program [now] has nothing to do with clean air. By aligning itself with the Teamsters, who have been very public about their campaign to unionize port truckers nationwide, the NRDC is pursuing an agenda beyond air quality," said Steinke. Steinke also reiterated several points made by Long Beach Harbor Commissioners over the past year, that in essence, a main goal of the truck program was clean air.

"Now, as before, our top priority is achieving cleaner air," said Steinke. "But we’re determined to do it in a way that does not compromise the trucking industry’s ability to move cargo. By allowing both employee drivers and independent owner-operators in our program, we’re letting the industry determine how it can best achieve our environmental standards."

The adjacent ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles developed the truck program jointly in 2007 and early 2008 as a way of cutting diesel emissions from more than 19,000 drayage trucks that serviced the two ports in 2007. In 2008, both ports began to split ways on the plan, with Long Beach officials adopting a plan that did not include hiring language. Officials at the port of Los Angeles, at the prompting of LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, instead adopted a plan that attempted to define who could and could not drive a truck in to the port.

The LA plan wanted to eliminate per-load independent owner-operators that made up more than 80 percent of the drivers in the fleet. The US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals later injuncted the non-environmental portions of both ports' version of the truck plan.

"We don’t have any objection to employee drivers," said Steinke. "In crafting the program, we simply decided to give the industry a choice. Under our plan, both larger firms and small business owners have the right to operate. We can accept differences of opinion on that issue – but we won’t accept the NRDC’s false criticism that the ATA settlement is somehow compromising our environmental goals."