ATA takes on Cali port over emission programs

LOS ANGELES — The American Trucking Associations says recent truck engine standards introduced by the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles are illegal and has filed comments with the Federal Maritime Commission to stop them.

The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have been considering a proposal to make it mandatory for trucking companies at the ports to use employee drivers — rather than the contractors currently used — as part of a pollution-reduction plan. But the Long Beach Harbor Commission instead approved a plan that would allow either employees or owner-operators. It was widely thought that this approach would avoid legal challenges from the trucking industry. Under the Long Beach plan, motor carriers must apply for a concession in order to haul containers to and from marine terminals.

ATA’s Intermodal Motor Carriers Conference says both plans violate federal law pre-empting local regulation of the routes and services of licensed motor carriers. The association says a recent Supreme Court decision ruling that Maine tobacco-delivery laws put too much of a burden on interstate commerce also applies in this case.

The court ruled that the requirements were pre-empted by the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act, which also finished deregulating the trucking industry, and prohibited state regulations of “price, route, or service of any motor carrier.”

The court said that Congress had clearly intended to prohibit state laws that had a “significant impact” on carrier prices, routes, or services. The impact, it continued, need not be direct, and it was not relevant that the state law in question might or might not be consistent with federal regulatory schemes in the same area. Nor was it relevant that the law might be easy or cheap for carriers to comply with.

ATA says the “unlawful ‘concession’ mechanism [is] unnecessary to achievement of the important environmental goals underlying the Ports’ Clean Air Action Plan.” Its statement filed with the federal government takes issue with what it calls the “blockade provision” of the port’s proposal, involving setting “criteria and procedures to be used to determine the right of admission or non-admission of trucks, cargo, or equipment to any and all terminals at the ports…”

A law professor who has been following the clean trucks program told the Pacific Shipper publication that pre-emption doesn’t apply in the California situation, because like any business, the ports are free to set standards that protect their assets.

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