From Clean to Clunker: The Economics of Emissions Control


By upgrading operational standards in the trucking industry, the Port of Los Angeles implemented a Clean Truck Program that resulted in a stunning initial drop in diesel emissions, plus removed polluting vehicles on Southern California roads for future generations. The Port determined that a system that first incentivized and then rewarded private investments in clean fleets was the best approach, rather than continually pumping large public subsidies into a market in which low-wage contract drivers are personally responsible for maintaining emissions-compliant equipment.

Economists and environmentalists agreed, and endorsed this initiative, which won the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Justice Achievement Award in 2009. However, the American Trucking Association obtained a court injunction that instantly dismantled this strategy a year ago and foisted costs for clean truck leases, operations and maintenance onto a largely immigrant, subcontracted workforce. Thousands of L.A. and Long Beach port drivers quickly saw their already low wages plunge. Many report delaying relatively inexpensive but necessary routine maintenance on the new fleet of over 6,000 heavy-duty trucks, while more costly repairs to clean technology engines and pollution-control equipment loom on the horizon.

“From Clean to Clunker: The Economics of Emissions Control,” for the first time compiles detailed data from port drivers, mechanics, air regulators and freight carriers on the financial cost and responsibility required to properly maintain a new clean diesel port truck. This knowledge is critical for U.S. seaports across the country that seek to develop and implement their own clean truck programs and confront similar pollution, public safety and economic challenges created by an antiquated port trucking industry.