The Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners broke ranks with its Los Angeles counterpart as it approved a plan Tuesday that would replace 16,800 short haul trucks at the port with cleaner burning models - but allow truckers to remain independent operators.

"It's time to roll up our sleeves and figure out: How are we going to reduce emissions?" said Long Beach Harbor Commission President Mario Cordero, after a public comment period that stretched five hours. "While we debate these provisos, there are people who are suffering from respiratory illness. Bottom line: We need to move forward."

As part of the two ports' jointly-adopted Clean Air Action Plan, officials have been working to finalize a truck replacement program they say will reduce diesel truck emissions by as much as 80 percent over five years.

At the center of the plan has been a controversial provision supported by environmentalists and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters that would end the practice of independent driver contracting, transferring the costs and responsibilities of truck ownership to motor carriers. The ports have said this would be necessary to implement the program and maintain a stable workforce, but trucking companies feared this would drive up costs and open the door for driver unionization.

Support for that provision remains strong at the Port of Los Angeles, where Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa - a former labor union organizer - appoints board members and enjoys strong labor backing. However, support in Long Beach waned amid the trucking industry's unrelenting opposition.

Several motor carriers in attendance said they were glad that the port had finally clarified the program after debate that began last spring.

"After months of uncertainty, it is good to look forward to things changing within my fleet," said Fred Johring, president of Golden State Logistics Inc. "I have already in place replacement plans for the oldest of our fleet."

But a large and vocal cadre of environmentalists in attendance criticized the Long Beach plan, saying independent truckers are exploited and cannot afford to maintain the more expensive rigs, which can run well over $100,000.

"The plan does not fix the broken trucking system," said Adrian Martinez, project attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an influential environmental and public health group. "This is a unique opportunity for the port to truly address the port trucking problem, (but) the plan does not address community impacts."

Long Beach officials suggested there will be some changes to the program in order to come to a compromise with the Los Angeles port. Cordero said he is "not entirely comfortable" with the current plan but wanted to move forward with the overall program.

The Long Beach port will fund as much as 80 percent of the cost of a new truck, which averages $95,000 for a clean diesel rig and $137,000 for a vehicle that runs on alternative fuel. The port is offering three different financing options: lease-to-own, grants for purchase and grants for retrofit.

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