You can put mustard in a ketchup bottle and try to pass it off as ketchup, but it doesn't take much to see that it is still mustard. That is the case with the Clean Air Action Plan, or CAAP, being considered by the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Its backers claim that they only want to clean up the "terrible air pollution caused by dirty-diesel trucks." But they want to accomplish this by forcing most of the 16,000 independent truckers, the vast majority of whom are Latinos, out of business. All trucks entering the port would be required to be retrofitted with specific, hugely expensive and unproven pollution control devices.

Another part of the CAAP is the "concessions" requirement that would slam the port door closed to more than 1,300 small drayage companies, throwing thousands more out of work. The economic impact would ripple out across the Southland in a shock wave of higher costs and lost jobs.

The controversial "concessions" component would give all port hauling jobs to a handful of "deep pockets" companies. These companies would have to purchase thousands of new trucks and hire thousands of new drivers at less money per year than they make now as independent owners. Guess who ends up paying for that with increased prices?

It doesn't take much research to see the mustard in this bottle. The ports' own research has shown that the average age of diesel trucks working in the ports is 12.9 years. The average age of all diesel trucks in California is 12.2 years. The implication in the CAAP is that somehow the port trucks are dirtier than other trucks. But port trucks must pass the same state

air emissions standards as all other trucks on the road. There is no research that port trucks are any less clean than non-port trucks.

The trucks that service the ports account for less than

4 percent of the air pollution. Based on port statistics of fleet size and academic studies of drivers' hours, this plan will result in more than 5,000 additional trucks being needed over the next few years just to meet today's level of cargo handling. This will result in 25 percent more total pollution than the plan predicts.

Teamsters tactics

The implementation of the proposed plan will cost $1.8 billion. We taxpayers will have to pay almost $800 million of that. According to one study, the plan could also result in an additional $6.6 billion being passed along directly to consumers over the plan's first year alone and upwards of $50 billion over the plan's five-year life.

So who is pouring the mustard here? It isn't hard to find the fingerprints of the Teamsters on the bottle. In 1980, the U.S. government deregulated the trucking industry and one of the big losers was the Teamsters Union. They lost all rights to unionize independent drivers at U.S. ports and elsewhere. Last June, the Teamsters' national assembly unanimously approved a union campaign aimed specifically at eliminating the per-load, independent port truckers.

The first target of that campaign is the Port of Los Angeles/Long Beach. Hiding behind the issue of clean air and worker rights, they have attempted to push through this plan that will force 16,000 independent owner-operator truckers, most of whom are first generation citizens, to give up their shot at the American Dream and instead be forced to become hourly employees of the "deep pockets" companies. This would then subject them to unionization. It is interesting to note that the CAAP is nearly identical to the licensing and labor plan the Teamsters have been advocating for years.

An industry-sponsored study this year found that 80 percent of the truckers prefer to remain independent operators. They consistently cited their ability to earn more money than an employee driver, as well as their freedom and flexibility to set their own work schedules.

Our group, Harbor Truckers for a Sustainable Future, fully supports the need for clean air and economic growth. But we believe this plan is poorly researched, discriminates against Latinos, unnecessarily increases costs, reduces competition and will have only a negligible effect on improving air quality. We know that more effective and less costly solutions exist that won't have such a devastating impact on so many lives.

We hope that elected officials take notice of the political implications of approving such a discriminatory and flawed plan. It is now time to pour out the mustard and put the ketchup back in the bottle.

Roger Ramirez, a partner in three local trucking companies, is president of Harbor Truckers for a Sustainable Future. The organization is a non-profit coalition of truckers and trucking companies opposed to the port cleanup plan.

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