Enviro-Labor Coalition Pushes Legislation To Enable Embattled Clean Ports Efforts

A coalition of organized labor and environmental advocates plans Wednesday to urge Congress to enact legislation to save programs to clean up emissions at some of the nation’s busiest ports.

Supporters of the clean port programs, which are credited with cutting diesel pollution by 70 percent, say new congressional action is needed because these efforts have come under attack in the courtroom.

The highways and transit subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure will hold a hearing on clean truck programs at the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach in California. The organization in Washington that lobbies for the trucking industry took the programs to court in order to block key provisions.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) drafted a letter, signed by 78 other House members, expressing support for the clean truck programs, which aims to replace trucks that haul freight in and out of U.S. ports with new, clean vehicles.

“With some 87 million Americans living near container ports, it is time for the federal government to develop better means of mitigating pollution and emissions around the ports,” says Nadler. “While the Port of Los Angeles has taken the lead and instituted a model Clean Trucks program, this is a national issue and deserves a national shift in environmental policy. I look forward to working with my colleagues and stakeholders within all facets of the port industry to introduce legislation to allow ports to tighten their own environmental standards.”

The Port of Los Angeles is the nation’s busiest, and the area surrounding it and the port at Long Beach has some of the worst air quality in the United States. Diesel pollution has been linked to potential cancer, other health risks, and lost workdays, according to the House transportation panel. In addition, California’s transportation sector contributes more than 40 percent of the state’s carbon emissions blamed for global climate change.

Orlando Marcano, a truck driver at the Port of New York and New Jersey, says, “After I completed a tour of active duty, I was ready to work hard and apply the values and skills I learned in the Army to earn a middle-class paycheck. But the system is so rigged I now breathe toxic fumes day in day out and earn less as a commercial big rig driver than I did when I worked at McDonald’s. Our jobs are like sweatshops on wheels – we need more leaders like Congressman Nadler standing up for cleaner air and for port truck drivers like me who keep our economy running.”

The program at the L.A. port has eliminated an estimated 30 tons of pollution, or the equivalent of taking 200,000 cars off the road, the Nadler letter says.

The American Trucking Associations (ATA) challenged the programs in court, however, citing provisions in the the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act (FAAAA) of 1994. That law allows local and state authorities only to regulate trucking companies for safety issues, according to the letter drafted by Nadler.

Nadler and other supporters of the clean trucks efforts want to see federal legislation to allow major container ports to implement stronger environmental standards on trucks. Nadler says that he plans to introduce such legislation – which has been endorsed by more than 100 environmental, labor and business organizations across the country – in the coming weeks.

“We applaud Rep. Nadler for his leadership to update federal transportation law so it is consistent with the Clean Air Act,” says Dave Foster, executive director of the BlueGreen Alliance, a group of environmental and labor organizations that seek to add jobs in a “green economy.” “The congressman rightly highlights that local government, such as ports, need to be part of a layered approach to reduce air pollution in our cities and across the nation. Our coalition looks forward to working with Congress to advance legislation, which will reduce pollution, make our ports healthier communities and create green jobs.”

The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.

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