Just months before it is set to begin, the $2.2 billion truck replacement program at the Port of Los Angeles has received support from several quarters, including the Federal Maritime Commission and congressional leaders.

The signs come as the Los Angeles City Council last week approved the port's version of the clean air plan.

Los Angeles and Long Beach port officials have toiled for more than a year on the program, which aims to slash diesel truck emissions by 80 percent through the replacement of more than 16,000 local short-haul rigs with cleaner-burning models.

The two ports had said they would adopt identical plans, but they parted ways over a controversial provision that would end independent driver contracting and require motor carriers to hire employee drivers to operate company trucks.

Motor carriers fear the requirement will open the door for unions to organize drivers, who earn little pay. Long Beach rejected the requirement, in part over fears of lawsuits by the trucking industry. However, Los Angeles adopted it, saying the provision would ensure the long-term success of the program.

The FMC gave its approval to both plans June 13 despite their differences though the commission retains the right to reconsider its decision if it believes shipping costs are rising too much.

The approval came just days after a delegation of 31 Democratic congressional leaders from California, including Reps. Jane Harman and Henry Waxman, wrote a letter in support of L.A.'s employee-based program.

"This program will produce sustainable environmental and public health improvements, enhance the efficiency and productivity of port trucking and reduce congestion," the politicians said in the letter.

The Los Angeles City Council last week gave a thumbs-up to the L.A. port version of the program. The council has authority over the Los Angeles port, but not Long Beach.

"We're very pleased that the council has shown its support of the Clean Truck Program," said Geraldine Knatz, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles, in a statement.

Curtis Whalen, an executive with the American Trucking Association, said the group plans to file a lawsuit over the employee-driver provision within the next two weeks. Los Angeles port officials have said they believe the provision would withstand a legal challenge.

Port Roundup

In other port news, leaders of the two ports, along with officials in both cities, have been busy tending to administrative matters and working to strengthen the ports' global standing.

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