Out of Control Policy Blog

Air Quality at California's Ports

Having now researched toll truckways to serve two major ports (Los Angeles/Long Beach and Miami), I have an ongoing interest in intermodal goods-movement issues. In an increasingly globalized economy, ensuring that goods can move efficiently to and from major ports relates directly to economic growth. But for ports like those in Los Angeles that are located in non-attainment areas for air quality, continued growth depends on reducing port-related emissions. In particular, that means reducing particulate emissions from diesel trucks, locomotives, and ships. But here we run into jurisdictional problems, as dramatized by recent developments at the Los Angeles area ports.

The ports of LA and Long Beach are trying to put into effect a program to phase out pre-2007 diesel trucks, which includes providing financial assistance to help pay for the replacements. But the mechanism both ports have proposed includes a new regulatory approach that would permit only trucking companies that sign "concession agreements" to haul containers to and from the ports. (In the case of the LA port, one of the provisions would require the elimination of non-unionized owner/driver rigs in favor of trucking company fleets, which the Teamsters intend to organize.) Everyone has agreed that the old diesel trucks need to be replaced, but the trucking industry has filed suit against the concession agreement requirement, arguing that when Congress deregulated the trucking industry, it pre-empted economic regulation of trucking anywhere in the country, a position upheld in a unanimous Supreme Court case earlier this year.

While that drama plays itself out, the state legislature passed SB 974, which authorizes the LA and Oakland ports to charge a $60 per 40-foot container fee, whose $500 million per year proceeds would be spent on port-related emission reduction and transportation (rail and truck) infrastructure improvements. (That would be in addition to the LA ports' $70 per 40-foot container fee, to assist with replacing pre-2007 diesel trucks.) Earlier versions of this plan lacked broad support, and one was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, but this one looks more defensible. It is better targeted, and its cost impact--$500 million on the $378 billion annual value of goods–is just 0.13%.

Meanwhile, the California Air Resources Board is trying to require all ships serving California ports to switch from dirty bunker fuel to low-sulfur fuel within 28 miles of shore. When fully implemented by 2012, that change would reduce ship particulate emissions by 83%, at a cost of $30,000 per docking. The Pacific Maritime Ship Association argues that CARB lacks jurisdiction, hoping that the International Maritime organization will assert jurisdiction when it takes up the matter in October. PMSA blocked an earlier attempt by CARB by arguing that it could not proceed without a waiver from the federal EPA, which was not forthcoming.

As if diesel particulate emissions were not enough, California is also roiling truckers and ship operators over greenhouse gas emissions. On July 31, the state joined several other parties in suing the EPA for not granting it a waiver to regulate GHGs from ships and aircraft. And the trucking industry is considering litigation to block a CARB proposal, to be decided upon in October, to regulate GHGs from all trucks operating anywhere in the state.
In short, goods-movement companies are facing jurisdictional chaos over both particulates and GHGs. Since both international trade and interstate commerce are clearly federal interests, we're overdue for Congress and the EPA to straighten out this mess.

Robert Poole is Searle Freedom Trust Transportation Fellow and Director of Transportation Policy


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