Cleaner air at Port of Oakland
West Oakland to breathe better with new truck regulations, but truckers bear brunt of clumsy implementation
The Sierra Club was pleased when in October the Oakland Board of Port Commissioners adopted a strict ban on "dirty" trucks. We were less pleased, however, at a clumsy implementation that put the costs on the backs of the independent truckers, who are barely eking out a living, rather than the well-financed shipping companies.
Emissions from diesel trucks serving the Port of Oakland have been the leading source of particulate pollution in West Oakland, where a majority of lung-cancer cases are attributed to Port truck pollution. The ban, as of Jan. 1, on all drayage trucks (trucks moving freight within the Port) not in compliance with the California Air Resources Board's (CARB) Port Drayage Truck Rule should lead to a major drop in pollution and to significant health benefits. The CARB rules have been known for some time, but it had not been certain the Port would enforce them for its internal operations.
The new rules had a less fortunate effect for many drivers. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District, CARB, and the Port set up a $22 million fund to help drivers comply with the regulations - by obtaining the necessary filters ($15,000 - $25,000 each) or by replacing their trucks. This funding proved inadequate, and in late 2009 approximately 1,000 truckers (out of 2,000 applicants) were told that there was no more money. Early in January, Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums brokered arrangements giving truckers several more weeks to comply with regulations and also allocating additional funding. Even with the additional funds, many of the truckers who could not afford to invest in the cleaner technology will go out of business.
Although these drivers own their individual trucks and are hence technically independent operators, they operate on very slim margins at the beck and call of large shipping firms. In today's deregulated trucking industry and depressed economy, truckers compete with each other for the same cargo for ever-lower pay. The Sierra Club believes that the well-capitalized shippers should be responsible for the costs of air-quality compliance. For instance, industry could pay for the new filters through a "container fee" assessed on every inbound container. Another solution being advanced by the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports is to reform the labor rules at the ports across the country so that truckers have the freedom to organize in unions, and furthermore requiring that all port truck drivers be employees of trucking firms. The Coalition and the Sierra Club will continue to lobby Congress for the long-term solution of giving ports the authority to set environmental, labor, and community standards. The Port then would be able to give the truckers the benefits of being employees and shift the financial burden of clean equipment off the individual drivers and the taxpayers and onto the companies.
In other port-related news, the Sierra Club is co-plaintiff along with the Natural Resources Defense Council in a suit against the city of Long Beach over actions it has taken that reduce the air-quality protections at its port. Club activists are working in coordination to improve the air quality at all the ports in California.
The Sierra Club is proud to have been part of this important step to bring relief to Oakland residents from the serious public health consequences of Port activities. To continue this long-term campaign, we need more volunteers to attend Port and Coalition meetings and to lobby Port officials and staff. To volunteer, contact Chapter conservation organizer or call (510) 848-0800, ext. 312 or Kent Lewandowski at firstname.lastname@example.org