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High Court Issues Split Decision On Port Of Los Angeles Clean Truck Plan

Placard Parking Restrictions Rejected; "Heart" Of Program Intact, Environmentalists Say

By Michael Gougis - Contributing Writer

June 18, 2013 – As new technology comes to market that assists businesses in creating efficiencies, the question becomes: what to do with the old equipment?

In a unanimous decision last week, justices ruled that the port was preempted by a federal law from enforcing placard and parking regulations included in the 2008 program. The justices took no action on the elements of the Clean Truck Program before the court that were not covered under that federal law.

The American Trucking Associations, which brought the suit against the port and the Clean Truck Program, hailed the verdict. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) minimized the significance of the ruling, saying that the main provisions of the program – requiring cleaner, less-polluting, well-maintained trucks to serve the port – were either not before the court or that the justices left them intact.

Port of Los Angeles Clean Truck Plan

The ATA sued, claiming that provisions of the program violated federal law. The case before the Supreme Court centered on four provisions of the “concession agreements” that trucking companies were required to enter into before being allowed to call on terminals at the port, and the penalties associated with violating those agreements.

Justices struck down two of those provisions. The agreements required trucking companies to post placards on each truck with a phone number for reporting concerns, and to submit a plan that included a list of off-street parking locations for each truck. A 1994 federal law prohibited the port from forcing trucking companies to do those things, justices found. The court said the port’s regulations inappropriately “had the force and effect of law” by making it a criminal act for a terminal operator to allow into the port a truck that did not adhere to the parking and placard regulations.

“We are gratified that, at the conclusion of many years of litigation, the highest court in the land unanimously agreed with ATA on these rules,” said ATA President and CEO Bill Graves. “The decision is sure to send a signal to any other cities who may have been considering similar programs which would impermissibly regulate the port trucking industry.”

But justices were not asked to rule on provision of the agreements that allow the port to require trucks to be maintained. That provision was upheld by the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. And the Supreme Court chose not to address the provisions of the agreement requiring trucking companies to meet certain financial standards. The “financial-capacity” element also was previously upheld by the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. With the Supreme Court not ruling on those two elements, they become law in the Ninth Circuit.

The court also declined to rule on the ATA’s challenge to the penalty provisions of the agreements, saying that the port has not yet created a penalty process that the justices could rule on, and the port had not tried to fine or imprison anyone.

“The Court’s ruling is very narrow,” said David Pettit, senior attorney and director of the NRDC’s Southern California Air Program. “It rejected most of the trucking industry’s claims and only invalidated two minor contract terms that the port had not been enforcing. The heart of the clean trucks program is intact and the port’s day-to-day operations do not need to change.” Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said that regardless of the court’s ruling, the city would continue in its efforts to reduce pollution from the facility.

“The program to improve air quality at the Port of Los Angeles is the most extensive effort to clean up a port in the world, helping to make Los Angeles the cleanest and greenest big city in the U.S.,” Villaraigosa said.

“Our Clean Truck program has reduced harmful truck emissions by 91 percent. We are reviewing the Supreme Court’s decision, but we intend to continue our efforts to clean L.A.’s port to the extent the law allows.”