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Judge Won’t Halt SoCal Clean Truck Programs

(CN) - A federal judge in Los Angeles upheld the substantive portions of a state program to reduce emissions on trucks serving the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports. U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder rejected the American Trucking Association's bid to halt enforcement of the plan to retire more than 2,000 pre-1989 diesel trucks from the fleet.

In 2008, the Los Angeles Harbor Board and the Long Beach Harbor Board adopted programs that went into effect Oct. 1 and retired the older, higher-polluting trucks from the fleet serving the ports. The programs require drayage trucks to be registered under a concession from the ports before they can enter the ports. The regulations are expected to reduce truck-produced emissions 80 percent by 2012.

The American Truck Association (ATA) filed suit last July, claiming the state lacks the authority to regulate interstate motor carriers. Judge Snyder ruled against the trucking association, but the 9th Circuit reversed, concluding that "the balance of the equities and the public interest do weigh in favor of a preliminary injunction in this case."

On remand, the ATA argued that the concession agreements are merely duplicates of existing law and cannot be enforced. It also challenged the finding that the state can delegate this authority to ports under a "safety exemption" to federal pre-emption.

Judge Snyder remained unconvinced.

"The Court agrees with the Los Angeles defendants that the mere fact that certain provisions of the Concession agreements require compliance with already existing obligations under federal and state law does not lead to the conclusion that the Concession agreements cannot fall within the safety exception," Snyder wrote.

Although Snyder declined to enjoin the agreements on that basis, she ruled that a plan to phase out independent operators and replace them with experienced drayage drivers was "unrelated to motor vehicle safety" and must be enjoined.

The National Resources Defense Council, which intervened earlier this month to defend the programs, issued a statement chalking up the ruling as having left the emissions regulations basically in tact.

"Today's decision allows the replacement of these trucks to proceed as planned," the NRDC wrote. "However, without the employee program, port cleanup goals could be severely delayed because most independent owner-operators cannot afford to maintain and repair their trucks."

Peter Lehner, executive director of the NRDC, added: "The fight for a sustainable clean truck program is far from over; we will stay at it and beat back the indefensible claims of those opposed."

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