Business interests that have been sharply critical of an air pollution reduction plan drawn up by the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles are gearing up for a big week.


The ports, which have expanded rapidly as trade with China and the rest of Asia has soared, have become the single biggest source of air pollution in the region. Environmentalists and community groups have applied intense pressure to clean up the ports and threatened lawsuits aimed at stopping port growth.


The Clean Air Action Plan, released by the ports last June, sets out an aggressive series of measures designed to reduce diesel emissions sharply over the next five years from the ships, trains, trucks and equipment in the ports.


All told, the measures are expected to cost about $2 billion, with the ports committing to put up only $200 million of that to replace highly polluting truck engines. Much of the rest would come from a mix of state and federal funds and fees levied on shippers, truckers and other port business interests.


In the next few days, port officials are set to release a final draft plan that will then go to the boards of each port for approval, possibly as early as next month. But business interests have complained that their concerns have not been adequately addressed, saying the plan is focused too much on cleanup.


"Business has not been involved in the closed door conversations that led to the creation of this draft clean air action plan. It is all green and no grow. There is no economic analysis," said Gary Toebben, president and chief executive of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce. "Some of the diesel air pollution reduction targets in the plan may not be achievable, but since business has not been at the table, that view is not being heard."


Meanwhile, shipping companies represented by the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association took issue with the strategy of forcing them to agree to pollution reduction measures as part of their leases with the ports.


The association said that many of the infrastructure improvements required at port terminals are beyond their control. The association also argued that imposing additional fees or tariffs on shipping companies may violate international treaties regarding commerce over the oceans.


Business groups will get a chance to air their concerns about the plan at a Town Hall meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday Nov. 2 at Long Beach City Hall. The meeting is being co-hosted by the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which will likely have to pass measures on its own as part of the plan.


Diesel Engine Idling


On Oct. 20, the California Air Resources Board approved a series of regulations designed to reduce emissions from idling diesel truck engines.


These regulations could hit commercial truckers and construction contractors hard, since delivery trucks and construction-related trucks frequently are in idling mode.


Many of the measures are aimed at diesel engine manufacturers, setting forth specific exhaust standards for particulates, oxides of nitrogen and other pollutants commonly found in diesel exhaust. Also, most diesel engines must have the ability to shut down after five minutes of idling.


But drivers will also have to take note of some of the regulations. For example, after Jan. 1, 2008, drivers cannot operate auxiliary power systems on their idling trucks that power heaters, air conditioners and radios unless those systems meet the new engine emission standards.


Independent truckers are expected to have the most difficulty meeting these new standards, since many of them use older vehicles that will need to be upgraded or replaced to meet this and other emission reduction regulations. Independent truckers also generally operate lower margin businesses.


Enterprise Zone Regulations


Companies that are located in several enterprise zones around L.A. have entered a state of limbo as the zones have expired while they await state reauthorization.


Enterprise zones were set up 20 years ago as a way to boost economic development in run-down areas; the program is one of the few state tools economic development officials have. Companies that locate in enterprise zones get tax credits for employees they hire from within the zones.


But enterprise zones have come under fire as critics say the tax breaks go to companies that don't really need them and that employees are hired from outside the zones but claimed as tax credits anyway. This year, a drive to scale back the enterprise zones was defeated in the Legislature. However, one law did pass that tightens some of the eligibility standards.


But there's a catch: under the law, enterprise zones cannot renew their status before Oct. 30. Meanwhile, 15 zones around the state expired on Oct. 14, including ones in the San Fernando Valley, downtown and south Los Angeles and one for cities along the Alameda Corridor.


Some of these zones can be renewed immediately; others may be denied or may face complications that can delay reauthorization. Whatever the case, there has been a gap that could have stopped the issuing of hiring tax credits. But the state Department of Housing and Community Development earlier this month issued guidelines designed to keep the program going while the reauthorizations get sorted out.


The biggest change is that companies that hire employees after Oct. 15 cannot take tax credits for those employees, until the enterprise zone for that area is reauthorized. Tax credits are still being granted for employees hired prior to Oct. 15.

Staff reporter Howard Fine can be reached by phone at (323) 549-5225, ext. 227, or by e-mail at hfine@labusinessjournal.com .

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