California Attorney General and the Clean Truck Program

March 24, 2011

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Today, we're taking a look at Kamala Harris' court filings in support of the California Clean Truck Program:

What happens in California tends to happen about ten years before the rest of the country is ready for it, but nevertheless the state of a good forecaster for developments which will get picked up nationally. California has long been known as the state with the harshest emission standards on drivers, both truckers and regular motorists.

The Port of Los Angeles has found itself embroiled in federal court litigation surrounding its Clean Trucks Program, initiated to reduce pollution in the area of the port. California Attorney General, Kamala Harris has filed a supporting legal brief, known as an "amicus curiae brief" or literally, a brief from a 'friend of the court'.

The Port of Los Angeles is operationally merged with the Port of Long Beach, and the combined facility is the 5th largest port in the whole world. Almost 170 million tons of freight and cargo are handled by the port each year and the bulk of it is transported to and from the facility by over 16,000 diesel tractor trailer units. This makes the trucks and the port one of the most polluting components in the area, contributing to LA's already notorious smog and downtown haze.

The litigation wound its way through the California state courts until last fall, when the state court ruled in favor of the Port of Los Angeles. The ruling gave the green light for the port's Clean Trucks program and the enforcement of the most stringent pollution emissions control legislation in the country. Numerous trucking and industry interest groups opposed the program on the basis of additional cost burdens and the impact on jobs and business growth; however these arguments did not prevail. The opposing parties took the case to the Ninth District Federal Court of Appeals.

The thrust of the Clean Trucks Program is to put the burden onto the carriers rather than the weaker owner-operators and drivers. By tackling what it terms as 'driver misclassification', the program tries to avoid penalizing drivers who are classified as 'contractors' by freight companies and their customers. This places the onus for compliance not so much on the drivers but on the wealthier carriers, who must foot the financial cost of the emission standards imposed.

The U.S. Congress is now considering the impact of the Port of Los Angeles' scheme and how it can be used as a model for national emissions standards and anti-pollution programs across the country.

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