U.S. backs ATA on ports’ concession plans

The American Trucking Associations failed to secure an expedited injunction to block the concession agreements implemented by the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach on Oct. 1, but the group is continuing the challenge through the more routine litigation process with some high-powered help: the U.S. Department of Justice.

In a Monday, Oct. 20 filing with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the Justice Department addressed the question of whether the regulation of motor carrier operations at the ports violates federal law that preempts state and local laws that impact motor carrier rates, routes and services. The district court ruled that the plans directly affected motor carrier rates, routes and services, but it found them to be protected from preemption because they generally advanced port safety and security interests.

While the federal preemption provision exempts state regulation of motor vehicle safety, the Justice Department argued that motor vehicle safety is a “circumscribed realm” that “does not encompass requirements loosely based in a general notion of public safety.” The district court’s broad view on the issue would “permit the exception to swallow the rule,” the department said. Several aspects of the concession plans clearly have no relationship to motor vehicle safety, including prohibiting the use of independent contractors and imposing financial oversight of carriers granted concessions, the Justice Department said.

With the courts refusing to block the concession agreements initially, 598 companies had signed up as of Oct. 1 to participate in the concession program. The district court held that carriers would not suffer irreparable harm because they could seek damages if they later win on the merits. But ATA argues in its appeal that securing individual damages would be difficult, if not impossible, and that forcing companies to either accept the illegal terms or stop doing business at the ports is itself irreparable harm.

ATA isn’t challenging other elements of the Clean Truck Program that went into effect Oct. 1. The program immediately banned trucks built before 1989 – more than 10 percent of port trucks as of Oct. 1 – and requires that all trucks meet 2007 emissions standards by 2012.