Two Democratic Capitol Hill lawmakers from New York, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Jerrold Nadler, introduced legislation Thursday that they said will “update federal law to ensure that ports can enact and enforce Clean Truck programs.”
“Congress must act to provide New York, and cities all across the country, with the common sense tools they need to improve the quality of air and quality of life for millions of people,” Gillibrand said. “It’s time to update federal laws and allow our nation’s ports to help reduce diesel emissions and improve air quality for all New Yorkers by putting clean trucks on the road.”
Aaron Keyak, Nadler’s communication director, said the legislation would allow local governments to implement concession agreements or other regulations that were struck down by the 9th Circuit and Supreme Court when the Port of Los Angeles included them in its clean port program.
Gillibrand and Nadler contend that such programs would – if enacted and enforced by ports – improve air quality and mitigate the impact of port trucking on the 87 million Americans that live in port communities.
They noted that some ports have initiated programs to reduce emissions from port trucks, including the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, Virginia Port Authority, Port of Houston, Port of Charleston, Port of Seattle, Port of Oakland, Port of Long Beach, and the Port of Los Angeles.
But they said federal court rulings, including the Supreme Court’s decision in American Trucking Associations v. the City of Los Angeles
, have left unanswered whether ports can insist that trucking companies take steps to assure their fleets remain clean.
Statements supporting the legislation were made by the The Coalition for Clean & Safe Ports, Natural Resources Defense Council, Teamsters union and community groups in cities such as Newark, Los Angeles, and Seattle.
Jim Hoffa, general president of the Teamsters, said "the transfer of responsibility for owning and operating port trucks from trucking companies to drivers over the last thirty years, and paying those drivers too little to properly maintain the trucks, has led to an air quality crisis in harbor communities. The Clean Ports Act will allow ports to modernize the industry and clean the air without pushing drivers beyond the financial breaking point.”
Curtis Whalen, executive director of the Intermodal Motor Carriers Conference at the American Trucking Associations, questioned the need for the legislation, saying “the record clearly speaks around the country that ports can and do implement clean truck laws that are extremely successful.”
The two New York legislators themselves cited the success of the Port of Los Angeles clean truck program which has replaced 6,000 older diesel trucks with modern, less polluting equipment, and Whalen said “tt seems to me this is an unnecessary piece of legislation, spurred on by the Teamsters. This has always been about them.”
Without a change in law that mandates employee drivers at ports, “the unions can’t unionize port trucking,” Whalen said.
He said the Teamsters are continuing to work "state by state, company by company" to have owner-operator truck drivers declared as misclassified and turn them into employees who they can organize.
"So far they have been relatively unsuccessful," he said.
Whalen said he expects a bill passed in May by New Jersey’s General Assembly and State Senate that would reclassify drayage truck drivers and parcel-delivery truckers as employees and not independent contractors to be vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie. - Chris Dupin