The U.S. Maritime Administration has become the latest entity to formally oppose the controversial and long-delayed program to reduce truck pollution at local ports.

In a letter dated Oct. 23, Maritime Administrator Sean Connaughton said the ports' plan, which would end the practice of independent driver contracting, could get bogged down by legal challenges and may cripple nationwide goods movement.

"Any governmental effort at the local level to 'restructure' this important industry is fraught with legal and economic risk," he said. "I am most concerned that the environmental benefits of reducing truck-source emissions not be lost or diluted by needless litigation or inadvertent impairment of the flow of the nation's commerce."

The $1.8 billion program, part of the ports' joint Clean Air Action Plan, would replace or retrofit most of the estimated 16,000 short-haul diesel trucks at the ports and reduce truck emissions by 80 percent, the ports say.

But the trucking industry has vehemently opposed certain elements of the proposal, including a gate fee and the requirement that motor carriers hire employee drivers rather than independent contractors. By reengineering the port trucking industry, the ports could inadvertently put perhaps hundreds of motor carriers out of business, the trucking industry has said.

Connaughton's letter said these elements seem to be unnecessary and could detract from the effectiveness of the program, as well as lead to a driver shortage, and it asks the ports to reconsider certain elements or delay the implementation. The Maritime Administration is tasked with promoting the economic activities of the nation's marine transportation network and oversees an emergency merchant marine program, but does not have the authority to prevent the program from moving forward.

The letter, which was sent to both the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports, is the latest in a series of missives opposing the truck program, though this is the first government agency to come forward.

The American Trucking Association, the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association and the National Industrial Transportation League have each voiced similar concerns in recent weeks.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.