Clean truck program rolling toward launch in Ports of LA, Long Beach, but questions on how it will work remain

There’s no shortage of complications when it comes the ambitious and multilayered effort to switch all drayage trucks serving the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to zero-emission models by 2035.

The Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners on Thursday, June 3, approved a concession agreement authorizing the port’s executive director to execute deals with each licensed carrier serving the port. The agreements are part of the port’s joint zero-emission push with Long Beach

But as the plan pushes forward, it’s becoming clear what a massive undertaking it will be.

Among the latest wrinkles have been the Port of Long Beach’s recent decision to add near-zero emission trucks to the truck fee exemption designed for zero-emission vehicles, which aren’t currently widely available, and L.A. Port Commissioner Edward Renwick’s question about whether truck drivers would wind up paying the $10-per-TEU truck fee.

Last month, Renwick voted against that day’s motion — which passed — to begin the process of setting up the Clean Truck Fund rate collection service for both the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

“The goals of this are great, cleaning the air is vitally important,” he said at the time. “But, end of the day, I believe we’re enacting a system where we’re taxing $70 million to $90 million from 11,000 to 16,000 of America’s working poor.”

Then there’s the question of how the pollution regulatory agencies will interact with the fee system, which is expected to be up and running in early 2022.

L.A. harbor commissioners on Thursday asked port staff to come back with more clarification on how the program will play out.

Commissioner Diane Middleton voted for the concession agreement, saying the port had to move forward, but wondered how everything will work.

“On the one hand, we have environmental groups and agencies pushing us to clean up the port, but they’re not telling us how or passing regulations that make it easier for us,” she said. “Nobody’s in favor of people dying from lung disease. Of course we want to make the port as clean as possible, but it just doesn’t seem like there’s the mechanism to do that yet. The big picture is not clear to me.”

Commission President Jaime Lee said the process seemed to be “happening in this piecemeal manner,” adding that the 2035 deadline for zero-emission trucks “is a minute away.”

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And commissioners agreed with concerns expressed earlier by Renwick about how truckers could be impacted. A survey on that point won’t be finished until late August, however.

Other questions have been raised about the California Air Resources Board and other regulatory agencies’ roles going forward.

In turning over the entire port-serving truck fleet, Lee said, state and federal partnerships will be critical, as will the need to reduce any potential economic harm to truck drivers.

Commissioners approved the concession agreement in a unanimous 4-0 vote, with Renwick absent.

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