Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Supreme Court to Hear Clean Trucks Program Challenge

The US Supreme Court on Jan. 11 agreed to hear a petition by the American Trucking Associations against aspects of the Port of Los Angeles’ anti-pollution initiative known as the Clean Trucks Program.

The program, which was established in 2008, includes a set of criteria under which drayage trucks and their drivers can enter the port. Included in the criteria is a stipulation that drivers must be employees of the companies they haul goods for, not independent operators, which until that point, the vast majority of truckers were.

The ATA is challenging numerous aspects of the regulations, including the employee mandate. The case has been making its way through the legal system since not long after the program was announced.

In September 2011, a three-member Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled that the port couldn't require thousands of port-servicing independent truckers to become trucking firm employees. However, the appellate panel split 2-1 in favor of the port on four separate truck plan issues opposed by the ATA, including an off-street parking provision, financial capability requirement, maintenance provision and placard requirement.

The ATA took the case to the Supreme Court for review in October 2011. In their Jan. 11 decision, the justices said they would hear the case this spring and likely issue a decision by July.

“The port’s rules challenged by ATA, which range from a requirement that carriers display port-mandated information on the sides of trucks entering and leaving the port, to a requirement that trucks conform to the port’s off-street parking rules even when not on port property, have nothing to do with improving air quality,” ATA President and CEO Bill Graves said. “We are pleased the Supreme Court will review the erroneous decision of the appellate court.”

The ATA has denied contentions that it’s case, American Trucking Assn. vs. the City of Los Angeles, is being pursued because it opposes the environmental aspects of the Clean Trucks Plan.

“ATA has challenged these provisions because we believe they are incompatible with Congress’ command that state and local governments may not regulate motor carrier decisions relating to prices, routes and services,” Graves said. “Our objections to the Port's program have always been business-related, and not, as certain reactionary groups have asserted, out of a desire to cling to polluting ways.”

The Port of Long Beach, which was also a defendant in the original lawsuit, reached a court-approved settlement with the ATA in 2009 allowing the port to implement all 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.