Tuesday, March 22, 2011

NRDC Gets More Time to Prove Long Beach Port Erred in Truck Program Settlement

A federal judge who ruled in favor of the Port of Los Angeles Clean Truck Program is now considering whether the Port of Long Beach required an environmental review before settling separately over their version of the truck program with the American Trucking Associations.

The weekend decision by US District Court Judge Christina Snyder provided an additional week for the National Resources Defense Council to file supporting evidence to its charge that Long Beach should have performed an environmental impact report to provide a baseline to measure against any pollution reduction achieved by the truck program.

The ATA filed suit in 2008 over the jointly-developed Long Beach/Los Angeles port truck program requiring port-servicing drayage firms to sign so-called concession agreements to gain access to port terminals. Firms without such an access license are barred from entering port facilities. The truck plan was originally conceived by the ports as a means to bar older polluting trucks and force port-servicing trucking firms to use newer and cleaner burning vehicles, thereby cutting port-generated diesel emissions.

However, Los Angeles port officials included non-environmental criteria in the concession agreements, such as financial, maintenance, insurance, safety, parking and labor criteria. Critics of the truck program's non-environmental components, such as the employee-mandate, have accused the port of engaging in social engineering above and beyond their role as a governmental entity.

The Port of Long Beach, a defendant in the original ATA lawsuit, reached a court-approved settlement with the ATA in 2009 that allowed the Long Beach port to implement a registration system that included all of the environmental aspects of the truck plan, as well as most of the non-environmental aspects. The Long Beach version of the truck plan never called for an employee-only mandate.

In 2010, the NRDC filed suit against Long Beach, arguing that Long Beach agreement with the ATA (which was approved by Judge Snyder at the time), violates the California Environmental Quality Act, which sets down guidelines for environmental reviews of projects that affect air quality. The NRDC believes that the port's abandonment of the Port of Los Angeles model in favor of the registration system has resulted in far fewer emissions being reduced because of stringent truck maintenance requirements in the Los Angeles-style concession agreements. The environmental group also argued that Long Beach officials should have completed an environmental impact report on the truck plan when it was modified by the ATA settlement to provide an emissions baseline – a baseline that could then be used to track the success of the truck program at cutting emissions.

Though no EIR was done on the truck programs, both ports have conducted annual baseline emission studies since 2006.

The ATA pointed out to the court that trucks under the Long Beach program must comply with all local, state and federal environmental standards, including emissions regulations, in order to participate in the registration program.

Following the NRDC submittal of additional evidence, the port will have a week to present a rebuttal argument.