Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Road Haulage and Container Shipping Freight Interests take 'America’s Port' to Supreme Court

Los Angeles in the Dock this Week
Shipping News Feature

US – In the fight to reduce pollution the State of California has been the flag bearer for many years. Whilst many have supported and admired the driving forces there which pursue every avenue to ensure that risks to the environment are properly managed, there are others less enamoured who feel that the strict application of regulations sometimes goes a little too far and restricts freedom of trade. Freight management has always been a ‘dirty’ business with pollution from both bulk and container shipping and road haulage trucks and now the success achieved in the Port of Los Angeles in reducing harmful emissions has been cited in an ongoing row over who has the power to forbid access to one of the nation’s most important cargo ports.

The case goes back over three years and the original arguments about the entry of older vehicles into LA Port led to a series of accusations and counter arguments with the Teamsters union and the Port authorities on one side and the American Trucking Associations (ATA) and shipping and trade interests on the other, covered in detail in a previous article.

This week the ATA returned to the Supreme Court States in the trucking federation’s ongoing challenge to what it refers to as ‘the ill-founded attempt by the Port of Los Angeles to impose a comprehensive licensing scheme on trucks hauling freight in and out of the Port’. The ATA’s case was argued by Daniel Lerman, an attorney with the firm of Robbins Russell in Washington. In addition, the Solicitor General’s office, representing the views of the federal government, joined with ATA in urging the Court to hold that the Port’s requirements are impermissibly in conflict with the Congressional policy articulated in the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act (FAAAA).

A number of other groups supported the ATA’s position by filing amicus briefs, including the Chamber of Commerce of the United States, Airlines for America, Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, National Federation of Independent Businesses and the Harbor Trucking Association. Amongst other points the Court is being asked to decide whether permitting a municipal governmental entity to bar federally licensed motor carriers from access to a port operates as a partial suspension of the motor carriers’ federal registration, in violation of Castle v. Hayes Freight Lines, Inc., 348 U.S. 61 (1954). The argument was put by ATA Deputy Chief Counsel Richard Pianka, who said:

“We believe it is clear that in 1980 Congress established that trucking should be shaped by the competitive market, rather than government regulations. And Congress underscored that desire in 1994 in the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act which prohibits state and local governments from enacting or enforcing any ‘law, regulation, or provision having the force and effect of law related to a price, route, or service of any motor carrier.’

“Despite this, leaders in Los Angeles moved forward with a plan to shape the market for trucking at the Port by imposing a laundry list of regulations that should all be clearly pre-empted by the FAAAA. If these rules are allowed to stand, it would clear the way for a patchwork of regulations that would lead to unreasonable burdens on the movement of goods.”

The case is likely to be seen as a test for other sites which seek to impose unilateral standards on haulage and drayage operators with regard to the equipment they use. The scheme will be seen by many as a worthwhile attempt to minimise pollution by banning older vehicles or those which produce higher levels of pollutants and in this respect it mirrors similar schemes overseas such as the Transport for London (TfL) Low Emission Zone, an area within which a punitive financial penalty is served on any truck operator who allows a prohibited vehicle to enter.

What always concerns the American citizen however is any attempt to obstruct individual freedoms, particularly when, as in this case with the ATA and fellow accusers, it is perceived that federal law takes precedence and there is an attempt to subsume it to local interests.

Photo: An electric UTR (utility tractor rig) courtesy of the Port of Los Angeles.