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For Cleaner US Ports, Cut Truck Fumes First? ; an L.A. Ports Coalition Hopes Its Plan to Allow Only Trucking Firms That Embrace New Emissions Standards Will Expand Nationwide

Article excerpt

As Luis Ceja steers his orange Freightliner toward the Port of Long Beach, one of the busiest seaports in the US, every rev of the engine spews more fumes into the air - some of it sucked back into the cab via an open window.

"This air pollution is no good for me or anyone," says the trucker, a legal immigrant from Mexico who has been driving big rigs for 30 years. But to curtail the emissions, he'd need to spend $8,000 to overhaul his 18-wheeler - something he says he can't afford on $25,000 annual take-home pay.

Now help may be on the way for Mr. Ceja and his eight-year-old vehicle. The Port of Los Angeles and its neighbor, the Port of Long Beach, are being spurred by a broad coalition of local activists to curb emissions related to the shipping industry, and their first action item is to try to streamline the trucking network that transports goods to and from the ports.

Last week, the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports unveiled a plan calling on the two ports to give trucking contracts only to companies that pledge to honor existing government standards for emissions, labor practices, and national-security measures. The hope is that drivers like Ceja will be able to earn more and upgrade their trucks - and that port authorities will be able to hold trucking firms accountable if the drivers who work for them are out of compliance.

The hope is also that this plan, which would affect 16,000 truckers, will become a model for the rest of the nation's ports and its 80,000 to 90,000 truck drivers, says the coalition, a group of environmentalists, unions, immigrants-rights activists, residents, and clergy that devised the trucking strategy for the two local ports, which together handle 40 percent of US container shipping. The coalition already is taking the initiative to four other ports - Oakland, Calif., Seattle-Tacoma, Miami, and New York-New Jersey.

"This move is well under way in all five areas," says Chuck Mack, Western region vice president and director of the Teamsters Port Division. "Because it has input from so many players on all sides of the issue, we believe this is the best, most comprehensive, creative solution."

That's not to say it would come at no cost. The plan could drive up the cost of all transported goods, as trucking companies begin to pay truckers more and step up compliance with labor, emissions, and national-security standards.

"The truckers are not nearly in the dire straits they would have you believe," says Ed Denike, spokesman for SSA Lines, one of the Port of L.A.'s largest terminal operators and trucking firms. Payroll for the 300 truckers working for his company averages about $50,000 per week, he says. "We like this idea and think it is the way to go. …