Port of Los Angeles (photo: Ric Francis, Associated Press)
The U.S. Supreme Court put a crimp in Port of Los Angeles efforts to expand without causing more air pollution by striking down regulations requiring off-site parking and rules ordering companies to place “How Am I Driving?” placards on their trucks.
The port’s 2008 rules were in response to criticism from environmentalists and community activists who opposed expansion of the port unless something was done about the miserable air generated by trucks coming, going and, most insidiously, idling on nearby streets.
The port authority, an independent division of Los Angeles, backed up its regulations with criminal penalties and port banishment and argued that they were necessary to run the facility like a business. Stephen Rosenthal argued on behalf of the port that it “should be entitled under even-handedness to do what a Wal-Mart or any other company could do to enable us to prosper, grow, and nurture our business enterprise.”
The high court wasn’t buying the argument. “The port here has not acted as a private party, contracting in a way that the owner of an ordinary commercial enterprise could mimic,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the unanimous court. “Rather, it has forced terminal operators—and through them, trucking companies—to alter their conduct by implementing a criminal prohibition punishable by time in prison.”
The court said the placard and parking requirements violated the Federal Aviation Administration Act of 1994. But the decision did not address other aspects of the port clean air program, including a provision that banned older diesel trucks. The court sent determination of those issues back to the lower courts.
Both sides claimed victory. David Pettit, a spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the narrow ruling “rejected most of the trucking industry’s claims and only invalidated two minor contract terms that the Port had not been enforcing. The heart of the clean trucks program is intact and the Port’s day-to-day operations do not need to change.” The council participated as an intervener in the lawsuit.
A spokesman for the American Trucking Association saw it differently. “We are gratified that, at the conclusion of many years of litigation, the highest court in the land unanimously agreed with ATA on these rules,” ATA President Bill Graves said.