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Trade group that challenged L.A. port's clean-truck program will appeal ruling

August 27, 2010 | 10:17 am

A trade group that challenged Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s clean truck program in federal court said Friday that it will appeal a ruling that upheld the initiative at the Port of Los Angeles.

Curtis Whalen of the American Trucking Assn. said Thursday’s decision, which allows the harbor officials to require concession agreements for each drayage truck that moves through the port, is “clearly erroneous as a matter of law.”

The concession agreements are a cornerstone of the mayor’s clean-air initiative at the harbor, which has been ranked by one group as one of the worst in the nation for emissions of ozone and particulate matter.

Whalen said his group will seek to keep in place an injunction that prevented part of the truck plan from being implemented. And he predicted the fate of the program will ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“This has national significance for sure,” said Whalen, who serves as executive director of the association’s Intermodal Motor Carriers Conference.

In her ruling, U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder upheld one of the most controversial components of Villaraigosa’s clean-port initiative – the requirement that any truck driver carrying goods in and out of the harbor be employed by a trucking company. That provision was aggressively sought by the Teamsters Union and was viewed as a way of making it easier for truck drivers to organize into a union in the future.

One labor organization that backed the provision contributed $500,000 to a telephone tax measure backed by Villaraigosa in 2008. That contribution arrived less than three months before the concession agreements were approved by the mayor’s appointees on the harbor commission.

While the truck industry panned the ruling, environmentalists gave it high marks, saying it will provide legal support for clean-port initiatives across the nation, reducing the harmful emissions caused by international trade.

“Millions of people live in port communities across the country and are forced to subsidize the operations of outdated port operations with their lungs,” said Melissa Lin Perrella, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group that intervened in the case.

Snyder said in her ruling that the port was acting as both a business and a landlord when it imposed the concession agreements, which establish rules for hiring, parking and truck maintenance. She said that the port was protecting its business by seeking to address the air pollution that made it a target of lawsuits from the Natural Resources Defense Council and others.

In her ruling, Snyder also concluded that the agreements will ensure that drivers work for companies that have enough money to maintain the new fleet of cleaner burning trucks that have been subsidized by the port. The harbor department has spent more than $57 million to develop and subsidize the purchase of such vehicles, city officials said.

-- David Zahniser at City Hall