Dirty diesel ban at Port of Oakland does not win approval


By Rebecca Bowe

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Photo courtesy Coalition for Clean & Safe Ports

Around 100 environmental and social justice activists crammed into yesterday’s Oakland Port Commission meeting in support of a program that, among other things, would have banned polluting diesel trucks from the Port of Oakland.

New air-quality regulations that come into effect in January 2010 will require trucks to meet more stringent emissions standards, and the proposed measure would have barred noncompliant trucks from entering the port. Instead of approving the program, known as the Comprehensive Truck Management Plan, Commissioners voted to revisit it on June 16, the next scheduled meeting.

Port spokeswoman Marilyn Sandifur explained that the proposed ban emerged as the contentious aspect of the program, leading commissioners to determine that they needed more information before approving the whole package.

A different agenda item, a resolution that the Port of Oakland’s Maritime Committee forwarded to the board without recommendation last week, was also pushed back to the June 16 meeting, Sandifur said. That resolution would have affirmed the findings of an economic-impact study by Beacon Economics, commissioned by the port. The report advocated a switch to an employee-based driver system, rather than independent truck operators, which would make it easier for truckers to meet the new air-quality regulations since it is difficult for the independent operators to afford the cost of retrofits on their own.

But the trucking industry recently sued ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach for banning independent contractors, resulting in a legal injunction on those ports’ truck programs that will remain in place at least until December. As we reported in this week’s “Green City,” the lawsuit and injunction has indirectly affected how far the Port of Oakland can take its own truck management plan. “We do have our hands tied,” Port spokesman Robert Bernardo told the Guardian. “We don’t want to overstep any legal bounds.”

Doug Bloch, director of the Coalition for Clean & Safe Ports, said he was disappointed that nothing had passed on June 2 and that his organization’s members would turn out once again on June 16. When asked why he thought the measure had failed to win approval, he replied, “The industry – the trucking industry and their customers – are putting a lot of pressure on the Port to keep the status quo and not rock the boat.” But Bloch says he also believes there is a push to steer the Port in the direction of more environmental accountability. “The Port has a responsibility to the community too,” he says, “and that’s what this fight comes down too.”


Independent owner-operators expose themselves to enormous risks in their business. Many do not even issue written bills of lading to their customers, and fail to take proper condition reports on picking up and dropping off loads, so they can be blamed even for damage that occurs to cargo which is not their fault. Because they are on the hook for truck payments, they work themselves as hard as possible, even putting their own lives at risk with long driving shifts, accepting any shipment no matter whether they are familiar with the route or not. If they are the employee of a larger firm, that firm can be responsible for insurance, benefits such as guaranteed downtime, and fronting expenses such as for motel stays and transportation back home when the truck breaks down. Larger firms can afford the overhead of an office which prepares bills of lading or proper shipping contracts which do not expose the trucker to unfair liability.

In this day and age, with the cost of fuel and the prevailing freight markets, most owner-operators are in dire straits. The minority of independent drivers who are prosperous are not representative of the terrible conditions currently facing most of these hard-working people. Larger trucking companies are the only way to push freight rates up - shippers are not going to start voluntarily and spontaneously paying higher rates. Bigger truckers can push for higher rates, while many owner-operators are accepting loads at rates that barely cover the cost of gas, so they actually run at a loss as long as they can, until the truck really breaks down for good, or (god forbid) until that last accident happens.

These owner-operators will never be able to buy new trucks on their own. Meanwhile, the people who live around the ports suffer unfairly high rates of asthma and cancer and other diseases, related to the trucks (and the ships) which use the port. Something has to be done.

Posted by Michael N. Escobar on Jun. 04, 2009 @ 10:56 am

That's great. Hope this so called green Teamster campaign to take away our right to truck ownership is doomed for failure. If you think clearly, how will the current motor carriers be able to afford newer trucks or retrofits if we cannot? That's just plain stupid talk. They will each raise the rates to purchase the new equipment, how else? The motor carriers will certainly raise rates under this employee recognition plan if we had a collective bargaining contract. The majority of the trucking companies would still rather chose owner-operators even if they have to operate under a union contract. So what is the real purpose behind this labor backed "clean&safeport" coalition taking away our right to own a small business? It's not all about air polution as they claim. Many of us have worked hard for years to own what little we have. This clearly is about control by the big union to reduce us to their idea of company drivers & bringing in their favorite companies to take over the ports. Not all of us own smoke belching junk as they love to claim in their prescripted media coverage! The small minority that do have bad trucks would be able to upgrade their trucks or buy another if decent freight rates were finally paid.

Posted by robert brown on Jun. 04, 2009 @ 8:05 am