Dirty diesel ban at Port of Oakland does not win approval

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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.”