Robbing Peterbilt to pay Paul

On Dec. 6th, the California Air Resources Board passed a measure requiring cargo container, passenger and refrigerated cargo ships to shut off their auxiliary diesel engines while berthed and to hook up to electric power from a land-based source. One day later the board passed a second measure requiring trucks operating at major ports and rail yards to reduce emissions.

These measures, the board estimates, would reduce diesel particulate matter emissions by affecting “about 20,000 trucks at 14 ports and 11 rail yards”. The board also estimated that the new port-related and rail yard-related measures would prevent “1,200 premature deaths” and lead to cleaner air for neighboring communities. [Pollution causes 1,200 premature deaths, studies show – not over an extended period, as intimated, but annually!] The board’s estimates are pure spinnage. There’s no way of knowing the effect the new measures would have on cancer or respiratory illnesses.

The new regulations are more definite, however. By the end of 2009, the regulations state, truckers with a 1994 engine or older must replace it with a newer model. Truckers with newer engines are required to replace or refit them to cut emissions by 85 percent by the same deadline. Normally, one would expect that the designers of a system or a program would sit back during an R & D period and observe the results being generated by their planning. Some tweaking here and some tweaking there would eventually convince the parties concerned that the system, or program, after some required modification and improvement, should or should not be put into effect.

But such a test period is not to be. Not where the LA/Long Beach complex is concerned. The Los Angeles Harbor Commission, in a move endorsed by business groups, has just approved a proposal to increase ship calls by 30 percent at the TraPac Terminal, one of the largest terminals in the Port of Los Angeles. The expansion, they’ve estimated, would create some 6,000 new jobs and generate some $ 200 million in tax revenues annually. The commission says nothing about community group reactions because the commission cares nothing about community group reactions. TEU volume is the measure of success as far as port officials are concerned. And let the devil take the hindmost.

But a number of analysts have already warned that most of the “20,000 trucks” and drivers will be long gone because the driver-owners cannot afford to replace or refit, etc., etc. Therefore, highly paid employed drivers must be provided as replacements. No problem, say the officials, just add on a container fee. But the proposal to “…increase ship calls by 30 percent” requires even more employed drivers. No problem, say the officials, just add on another container fee.

Those port officials have very short memories. About two years ago, Bill Graves, the president and chief executive of the American Trucking Association, pointed out that Department of Labor data revealed that the number of men aged 20 – 44, potential truck drivers, is expected to shrink by more than 50,000 from 2003 to 2007. Container fees, therefore, aren’t the answer, and besides, such ill-advised add-ons only serve to compound the industry’s many problems.

And the biggest problem of all will be the shortage of drivers, thanks to a shortage of common sense.