The Clean Air Act, a key environmental legislation, has been in effect since the 1970s, but it has only recently been used in the trucking industry in an attempt to improve air quality in port cities.
“In the early to mid-2000s, local community members were growing increasingly concerned about the level of anticipated cargo growth and the associated negative air quality impacts,” said Heather Tomley, assistant director of environmental planning at the Port of Long Beach.
“Port of Long Beach, together with the Port of Los Angeles, developed the Clean Air Action Plan (CAAP) in 2006 in response to our Board of Harbor Commissioners’ direction to develop strategies to address air quality impacts from port operations,” she continued. “The two ports were the first to develop such a comprehensive plan.”
This plan is better known as a state-wide drayage truck regulation. As per current regulation, these drayage trucks, or transportation vehicles, must meet strict requirements in order to ship cargo.
The ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles were the first ports in the country to develop comprehensive programs targeted at modernizing drayage trucks. Several other ports have followed, including Port of Oakland, Port of Seattle, and the Ports of New York and New Jersey.
The older trucks emit large amounts of nitrogen-containing smog, which creates toxic soot, or particulate matter. These emissions can cause asthma, cancer, or premature death in residents of nearby communities.
There is a three-phase schedule enacted by the California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board to phase out older, higher-emission vehicles.
The first phase, in 2008, banned pre-1989 trucks. The second phase, in 2010, banned all pre-1993 trucks and required trucks from 1994-2003 to be retrofitted to meet current emission standards. In January 2012, all trucks that didn’t meet 2007 on-road truck standards were banned.
All privately and federally owned diesel fueled trucks and buses with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of more than 14,000 pounds must adhere to the regulations, which are being enforced at a rapid rate, causing difficulty for some truck drivers and transportation companies to keep pace.
“Many drivers went from being owner/operators to drivers, which drivers make an average of 25 to 45 percent of gross income of the truck, as opposed to owners that make 100 percent of truck revenue,” said Silvia Jimenez, terminal manager for Concord Logistics' Los Angeles transportation office.
“When you have a driver that owns a truck that makes anywhere from $2,000 to $3,000 weekly and then is forced to make $13 an hour and still keep that house and car payments — it simply does not add up,” she continued.
Jimenez also said that the three-phase plan from the Air Resources Board may be hurting truck drivers more than helping them, since every few years older trucks are phased out and most truck drivers cannot afford to constantly replace their trucks. What is acceptable one year is not the next. The retrofitting is also expensive, and can cost from $9,000 to $15,000.
There are incentive programs to help fund these changes, but they are often under-funded and attract more applicants than can be aided.
Sean Irving, truck driver for Swift Transportation Inc., a major trucking company that employs many owner operators, struggled to retrofit his truck so that it would comply with the 2010 regulations, and recently had to buy another truck to comply with the new 2012 regulations.
“I had to replace my 2002 Kenworth truck,” he said. “I tried to retrofit first, but in the end I had to get a completely new truck. The way things are going, I really can’t keep up with the changing standards, so I leased a new truck. I hope it will last me for a while.”
Irving now pays more than $500 a week to lease his truck, which has made it difficult for him to pay his monthly bills and support his wife, three children and granddaughter.
“It's been real hard,” he said. “I'm more in debt than I should be, especially since I went into trucking because it pays well.”
Although the regulations pose difficult problems for those in the trucking industry, they were meant to protect the environment and provide cleaner air for people living near port areas.
“Trucks were a major contributor to port-related air emissions, and since they operate along roadways, close to communities, they were responsible for a significant portion of the health risks associated with port operations,” Tomley said.
Since 2005, diesel particulate emissions from trucks have been reduced by 90 percent, and port-wide diesel particulate emissions have been reduced by 72 percent.
However, diesel particulate emissions are only 3 percent of regional emissions, which include emissions from industrial sources, passenger vehicles, consumer products, etc.
“Even a large reduction in emissions at the port will be small when considered on a regional basis,” Tomley said.
It is extremely difficult to measure the affect the regulations have on a regional area because of the large amount of other factors that must be taken into account when assessing air quality.
“Let’s face it,” Jimenez said. “When the old lady that lives in San Pedro has asthma, it is not because of the trucks that run that area. There are many factors to consider, like the ships emissions, passenger cars and busses. The commission for the CSA put that lady on the stand out in the public eye to get this law passed, and it did. They did not consider once what this did to the economy. It impacted
lots of people — from the driver to the small trucking company to the consumer.”
The regulations are being constantly amended, and the most recent amendment states that by 2023, nearly all vehicles will need to have 2010 model year engines or equivalent.