Despite growing obstacles, the region's ports are vowing to kick off next week their controversial clean air programs, which involve the replacement of thousands of old diesel trucks.

The Los Angeles and Long Beach ports are set to ban all pre-1989 short-haul diesel trucks from the harbor beginning Oct. 1 despite a last-minute intervention by the Federal Maritime Commission.

Earlier this month, the commission submitted a nine-page list of questions to both ports asking for hundreds of details about the plans, which differ in some key details. If the ports do not address the concerns, the agency could ask a federal judge to block the program until it is satisfied.

What's more, 13 terminal operators have requested the ports delay the start of the program because a system needed to collect a new fee on port containers is not ready. In a Sept. 10 letter, the operators said the lack of readiness "creates a significant risk of delays at terminal gates, port congestion, truck lines, disputes over payment of the clean truck fee, disgruntled customers and damage to the reputation of the ports."

Still, Geraldine Knatz, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles, spoke at a meeting last week of the port's "determination" to start the program on time. And a Port of Long Beach spokesman told the Business Journal it is committed to the Oct. 1 start date.

John Husing, a Southern California economist who has been hired by the Port of Los Angeles to evaluate the program, said there is little to gain by delaying implementation since there are bound to be kinks.

"I don't care whether they start it now or later, it's going to have problems. It's going to have problems because this has never been done before," he said. "Any time you start something this big, where nobody quite knows how it is going to work, it is inevitably going to have problems."

Meanwhile, the trucking industry has not backed off on its opposition to key elements of the plans, including the adoption by both ports of a concession system for trucking companies seeking to service the ports.

The 37,000-member American Trucking Associations said the ports don't have the authority to adopt a taxicab-style concession model, which it maintains violates federal law. However, a federal judge this month denied the ATA's request for a temporary injunction to block the programs. (The ATA explains its positions in an editorial on page 43.)

The trucking industry also adamantly opposes an element only in the Los Angeles plan that bans trucks driven by independent owner-operators, requiring carriers to hire their drivers as employees. The industry maintains this will open them up to a Teamsters organizing drive.

However, the ports say more than 200 motor carriers representing about 6,000 trucks have agreed to comply with the program's guidelines. That would be enough, they said, to keep port imports and exports moving.

The dual programs, expected to cost $2.2 billion, are aimed at reducing diesel truck pollution by 80 percent. The two ports are the single source of air pollution in the Los Angeles air basin.

The programs would largely be funded by a combination of increased fees, state grant money and other sources. But carriers will have to spend millions to help replace the trucks. By 2012 only the latest clean diesel and alternative fuel trucks will be allowed to service the ports.

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