An effort to reduce diesel emissions at Southern California’s ports by imposing stricter regulations on the trucking industry could lead to an economic crisis reminiscent of the 2002 dockworkers’ lockout, a new study warns. The strike five years ago shut down all major West Coast ports for 10 days, costing the national economy an estimated $10 billion as ships backed up in harbors and containers piled up at waterfront marine terminals. Similar backlogs may result in the first weeks of the Clean Trucks Program that could begin Jan. 1 at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, says a study by economist John Husing. Currently, most cargo is transported by owner-operated tractor-trailers that are hired by trucking firms. The proposal set for a vote this fall by the two cities’ Harbor Commissions would require the trucks to be operated by employee drivers. Additionally, access to the terminals would be restricted to motor carriers operating only the cleanest-burning trucks. That plan, the study found, would drive up cargo-hauling costs by about 80 percent, in part because of the expense of providing medical and other benefits to truckers. There also would be the cost of retrofitting trucks or buying new ones, since fewer than 5 percent of vehicles now using the port meet 2007 emission standards. Even with the increase, trucking costs would total less than .2-percent of the $70,000 value of the average container, according to the study. Still, there is pressure from shippers and retailers to minimize cargo-hauling costs, Husing noted in the report, which was commissioned by the ports and released last month. “There’s huge pressure on executives not to (increase costs), and that’s why the crisis path appears more and more likely,” Husing said. Currently, 1,000 to 1,200 trucking companies compete to haul the estimated 16 million cargo containers handled annually at the Long Beach-Los Angeles port complex. Federal law prohibits the trucking industry from conspiring to set rates on cargo moves. There is fierce competition among carriers, and any company that tries to raise rates – to offer better pay for drivers, for example – risks being undercut by its rivals. As a result, drivers in the ports are among the lowest-paid and least able to afford the new clean trucks that port officials want. Health officials say studies have linked diesel pollution to increased asthma, cancer and heart disease in surrounding communities. Until they address these ecological and health issues, the Harbor Commission cannot proceed with plans to expand the waterfront terminals because of the regulations requiring environmental mitigation. An alternative proposal would allow contract drivers, letting motor carriers off the hook for benefits, although the requirement for new or retrofitted trucks would remain. Right now, port drivers earn an average of $12 an hour. To cover the costs of new trucks, they would have to earn at least $20 an hour, even with state and local grants helping subsidize purchases, he said. Patty Senecal, an industry spokeswoman and owner of a large local trucking firm, said there’s no easy solution. “I don’t think officials want to put us on a crisis path where we have cargo ships backed up like in 2002,” Senecal said. “It would be very difficult for us to survive, to say the least.” She and other trucking company owners urge more review and revision – and possibly waiting for adoption of statewide port trucking regulations now being considered by the California Air Resources Board. “We all support the clean-air piece, and what triggers it is where we’re at right now, and it has to be reasonable,” Senecal said. [email protected] (562) 499-1466 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!
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