In the month of March, the Port of Los Angeles made history, enacting one of the most far-reaching pollution-reduction plans in the country. The Clean Trucks Program approved by the L.A. Port Commission not only will dramatically improve air quality and cut diesel-related health problems, but will help lift 16,000 truck drivers out of poverty.
This landmark achievement is the culmination of a two-year effort by LAANE and a broad-based alliance of nearly 40 labor, environmental, public health and community-based organizations. United in its determination to address the severe economic, environmental and public health impacts of the broken trucking system at the nation’s largest port complex, the Coalition for Clean & Safe Ports worked relentlessly to ensure the adoption of a new model.
The Coalition’s efforts, along with the strong support of L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, were critical in overcoming enormous opposition from the trucking industry and major shipping interests such as Wal-Mart that have long profited from a system that places the entire burden of buying and maintaining trucks on poor, largely immigrant drivers. As one driver said in his testimony before the L.A. Port Commission, “They are making me choose between replacing my truck and feeding my kids.”
Unable to support their families, let alone purchase clean-burning trucks, these drivers have embraced the Clean Trucks Program. The program will shift the responsibility for truck and upkeep to the trucking companies, while also requiring that drivers become employees of these companies rather than independent contractors – a move that will significantly raise job standards and ensure basic workplace protections.
Beyond the benefits to drivers and the communities that have suffered from polluted air, the Clean Trucks Program is a watershed accomplishment for the burgeoning blue-green alliance. Often on opposite sides of public policy debates, labor advocates and environmentalists have created a powerful partnership that could serve as a model for a good jobs/green growth movement in cities across the nation.
Despite this week’s victory, the campaign is far from over. The trucking industry has threatened to sue the Port of L.A. over the Clean Trucks Program, while the neighboring Port of Long Beach is proceeding with a plan that fails to correct the fundamental flaws of the port trucking system.
In the coming weeks and months, the Coalition for Clean & Safe Ports will press the Long Beach Port Commission to embrace the Clean Trucks Program, and work with the L.A. Ports to turn back the trucking industry’s legal challenge. The stakes are high. “We will not stop until both ports have adopted a clean trucks program that will permanently change the broken system,” said LAANE’s Patricia Castellanos, chair of the coalition. “We owe it to the drivers, our communities and future generations.”
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