Or that the pollution from those trucks subjects nearly 87 million Americans who live and work in port regions to the preventable, costly and even fatal health consequences of diesel soot, which include asthma, cancer and heart disease?
Unless you happen to live near a port or drive a long-haul truck, there's little chance you're aware of just how seriously this absence of regulation in the port trucking industry is impacting seaport communities -- not to mention the drivers responsible for hauling goods from Point A to Point B. Lax oversight has allowed some 5,500 port trucking companies nationwide to skirt tax laws and push all the costs of doing business onto their drivers by misclassifying them as independent contractors. As result, after-taxes, the average driver takes home just $10-11 an hour, making it impossible for them to afford to drive anything but the oldest, most decrepit vehicles -- those that emit levels of pollution our federal government has already deemed unacceptable.
While federal regulators have largely turned a blind eye to this issue, community groups -- along with a growing number of local and national politicians [pdf] -- are standing up for the health and clean air rights of portside communities and drivers nationwide. Among them is Ms. Foundation grantee LAANE, which played a pivotal role in the passage of one of the country’s most sweeping anti-pollution and anti-poverty measures: a Clean Trucks Program for the ports in the Los Angeles region that aimed to dramatically improve air quality and raise the standard of living for as many as 16,000 truck drivers.
The LA Clean Trucks Program was developed to replace old, pollution emitting trucking fleets with new, environmentally friendly trucks -- while forcing the trucking industry, not individual workers, to bear the cost burden of that replacement process. When the measure was initially approved in 2008, 6,600 clean diesel and alternative fuel vehicles were put into service in the LA area -- thanks in part to more than $600 million in private investment from trucking companies. Officials reported a nearly 80 percent drop in emissions as a result.
But not everyone was thrilled with the program: citing the measure's alleged violation of a federal law that protects the interests and independence of tucking companies, the American Trucking Associations challenged the program in district court and won a temporary injunction in late 2008. Since then, many haulers have seen their pay drop below minimum-wage standards, as companies have penalized them directly for the costs of the upgrades of their trucks.
Late last week, however, a victory for the health and well-being of port communities and drivers was won when a federal court judge ruled that "the Port of Los Angeles can regulate trucks that haul goods in and out of its property to reduce air pollution around the country's busiest port complex." This, in turn, means that the full Clean Trucks Program can be implemented at the port -- a huge win for LAANE and other groups that have been working so desperately hard to protect and improve the quality of life for the people of the ports.
A lengthy appeals process is all but certain, but for now, at least, LAANE and its constituents have cause to celebrate -- as do those of us who believe that communities and workers of all economic stripes deserve access to the same clean air so many of us take for granted.
If you believe that local communities deserve more power to enforce labor and environmental programs like the Los Angeles Clean Truck Program, support the recently introduced Clean Ports Act of 2010. Send a message to your elected officials by signing this petition now!