Washington State bill will require trucks serving ports to be cleaner

By Sam Sklar

All drayage trucks serving the ports of Seattle and Tacoma will need to be cleaner under a bill in the state legislature. At that time, trucks moving into and out of these high-volume ports would be required to have engines manufactured in 2007 or later. The state bill extends the target date, originally set on April 1, 2018 by the Northwest Seaport Alliance, to give truckers more time to comply.

As of the end of 2017, only 53 percent of the 4,500 trucks that serve the ports were in compliance with the 2007 rule. The Alliance and the State of Washington have been working to improve air quality around the ports, but the requirements are a burden for independent truckers who often make only $50 per haul and $200 per day. The decision to extend the deadline is a compromise between the needs of the truckers and the promises made to the neighborhood to move faster to improve air quality.

Proponents of the bill say that its intended outcome is a much-needed boon to the environmental health of the port and its surrounding neighborhoods, whose air quality has worsened in recent years. In response to the truckers, a local environmental group, Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, has commented that, while it understands the truckers’ financial hardship, the issue of clean air is a safety issue, too, akin to broken brakes.

Citing data from the City of Seattle and the King County Department of Public Health, the Seaport Alliance noted that there is a strong correlation between the location and air quality of neighborhoods close to the port and those neighborhoods’ income level. To further bolster their point and to make this point clearer to the public, the City and the Alliance might look to map this pollution to isolate the most pressing areas of concern. Oakland, CA, has recently undertaken a similar study with help from Google and the Environmental Defense fund.

A study like this could help to make the case for more funding from public sources to help get more dirty trucks off the road.

Previously, the Northwest Seaport Alliance in partnership with the Clean Air Agency had worked to match and administer federal grant dollars to help scrap and replace trucks that would be out of compliance. However, these funds have been exhausted.

The Seattle and Tacoma rules follow initiatives in Long Beach and Los Angeles, California, which banned the older, dirtier engine technologies in 2012, but provided grant funding to help drivers get there. But the Alliance may also want to note the abandonment of a similar plan by the Port of New York and New Jersey after objections from truckers. Instead the plan was replaced by a program to incentivize replacement of trucks older than 2007 with a combination of a grant and access to low-cost financing.

In all these areas, the health concerns of port neighbors are competing with the financial constraints of independent truckers and a possible shortage of trucks should the stricter rules be applied.

Sam Sklar is a Program Associate at SSTI.