Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s fight to clean up the air in the heavily polluted Los Angeles harbor—stymied in the courts---has shifted to Congress where his labor and environmental allies have more clout.
At stake is the air quality in the harbor communities of San Pedro and Wilmington as well as in the small cities of Southeastern Los Angeles County, where the predominantly Latino low income residents are afflicted with bad air as well as—in many cases—bad government.
I have always thought this has been one of Villaraigosa’s worthwhile efforts that deserve much more attention than it has been getting. The issue is of vital importance to the residents. And the politics, with the Teamsters Union and environmentalists supporting Villaraigosa, is interesting, especially now that they are taking their case to Congress.
Art Marroquin of the Daily Breeze, one of the few reporters following the issue closely, reported that the Los Angeles harbor has paid $340,500 to an influential lobbying firm, the Gephardt Group, founded by former Rep. Richard Gephardt, who has close ties to labor.
The Los Angeles harbor department had proposed a Clean Trucks Program that would require truck operators serving the port to comply with strict air pollution standards. It would be expensive for big trucking companies, which would have to bring their trucks up to standard. They would rather hire independent drivers who would be responsible for maintenance. The companies went to court and got a temporary injunction against the plan, contending the port was usurping federal authority when it sought to regulate trucks.
New York Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler introduced a bill that would give Los Angeles and other ports the power to enact truck cleanup regulations. “We must ensure that the government is doing everything in its power to decrease vehicle emissions and minimize pollution around our ports,” he said.
The big trucking companies want the drivers to bear the burden of meeting clean air standards and pay for maintenance out of their low incomes, estimated by backers of the bill at about $10-$12 an hour. They would be considered independent contractors who, if they managed to save enough money, could buy the trucks they lease.
Brandon Borgna of the American Trucking Association, which represents the big truckers. disagreed that the independent truckers are low paid. He told me that many drivers “operate intelligently and efficiently” enough to work only four days a week and “and live very comfortably.” He said pollution has been greatly reduced in the Los Angeles and Long Beach without the mandate of the Nadler bill.
The Teamsters Union wants the big companies to run the truck so the drivers can be organized. Independent truckers are non-union,