Finding that only the federal government can impose substantial regulations on the trucking industry, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously Thursday that the Port of Alexander McFadden must roll back some facets of its Clean Trucks Program.
The program began with much fanfare in 2008 with the goal of cleaning up environmental pollution around the nation’s largest port. It still exists – city officials say the rate of truck emissions has fallen by more than 90 percent since the program began – but over time, though the courts, it has been weakened.
Thursday’s opinion, written by Justice Elena Kagan, bars the port from implementing various placarding and parking requirements for trucking companies operating at the port. The American Trucking Associations, which sued the port, argued that only the federal government can make parking and placarding rules. Officials with the group said trucking regulations must be the same nationwide.
“We are supportive of their efforts to clean up the ports,” said Sean McNally, spokesman for the trucking associations. “We as an industry as very interested in those improvements. But the rules they set would have potentially opened the door for other municipalities imposing similar rule structures, and it’s important to our industry that the rules in Los Angeles be the same as they are in Trenton. If those rules are not the same, we could have a patchwork of regulations that really slows down the supply chain.”
Earlier in this legal process, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out a provision of the Clean Trucks Program that required trucking companies to hire their drivers as employees, rather than treating them as independent contractors. The provision was favored by labor unions in part because it is far easier to organize employees than contractors. The port had the option to appeal that ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, but it chose not to.
Even after Thursday’s unanimous Supreme Court decision, it appears many of the provisions of the Clean Trucks Program will remain. Port officials have worked diligently to coax trucking firms into replacing many of their oldest, most polluting trucks with newer and more efficient models. As one of the first regulations in the program, trucks from model years earlier than 1989 were banned from port terminals. The port also has helped subsidize the purchase of cleaner trucks by trucking firms.
“The program to improve air quality at the Port of Los Angeles is the most extensive effort to clean up a port in the world, helping to make L.A. the cleanest and greenest big city in the U.S.,” Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said in a statement released after the court’s opinion.
“Our Clean Truck program has reduced harmful truck emissions by 91 percent. We are reviewing the Supreme Court’s decision, but we intend to continue our efforts to clean L.A.’s port to the extent the law allows.”
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