Long Beach port authorities approved a controversial container fee Monday expected to generate $1.6 billion to subsidize the purchase of cleaner trucks working in the nation’s largest seaport. The fee, approved unanimously by the Port of Long Beach Harbor Commission, will be tacked onto every loaded container leaving or entering waterfront marine terminals by truck beginning June 1 and ending in 2012. Under the plan, each 20-foot long container will be levied $35 each time it enters or exits a terminal. Forty-foot containers will be charged $70. An identical fee is expected to be approved by the Port of Los Angeles on Thursday. Supporters contend the plan will ensure a healthier environment for area residents, truck drivers and dockworkers, who are routinely exposed to high levels of diesel soot. Opponents, however, argue the fee will negatively impact small companies and farmers, whose cargo tends to be less valuable than shippers transporting electronics, furniture and clothing. “With the margins in agriculture being so thin, extra port fees and costs can make the difference between winning a foreign sale and losing it to a competitor located in another country,” said Peter Friedman of the Agricultural Transportation Coalition, an industry group representing many California farmers. Opponents also argued that the new truck fee, along with an existing $100 per 40-foot container fee adopted in 2005 to reduce road congestion, make Southern California seaports less competitive. “We feel (this fee) is rushed and does not take into consideration the total impact of all these fees on port trade,” said Elizabeth Warren of Future Ports, a maritime trade group. The road congestion fee, known as PierPASS, assesses $100 per 40-foot container on cargo moved during peak hours, which the ports identify as between 3 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. The fee pays for extended gate hours at marine terminals and has helped divert some 60,000 trucks each week from rush hour traffic, according to the Port of Long Beach. In November, the ports adopted a truck replacement schedule that begins with a ban on pre-1989 trucks starting Oct. 1. The ban grows progressively stronger through 2012, when all drayage trucks will need to meet federal 2007 standards. Many environmental and labor groups said Monday authorities should also approve a proposed concession program restricting waterfront access to truck companies with the cleanest fleets operated by employee drivers. Currently, most drayage is handled by contract drivers who are responsible for purchasing and maintaining their vehicles and earn a flat fee for transporting cargo. Studies show these drivers, after expenses, earn about $12 an hour – too little to purchase or maintain a new truck, which can cost $150,000 or more. “Retaining the current broken truck drayage system would jeopardize the long term sustainability of the clean trucks program,” said Colleen Callahan of the American Lung Association. “We (seek) a quick transition to employee status for truck drivers so that companies are responsible for the safety, upgrade and maintenance of trucks … for the long term.” Port authorities in Long Beach and Los Angeles are working on a separate fee for infrastructure improvements, which they plan to announce in coming weeks. They also plan to address the concession proposal, which is opposed by truck companies, before the spring. To learn more, visit www.polb.com. [email protected], 562-499-1466160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWhicker: Clemson demonstrates that it’s tough to knock out the champ“I think this is a gigantic step forward … and it’s not perfect, but it’s darn good,” said Port of Long Beach Commissioner Mike Walter. “It’s high time the ports step up to this issue. The health issue is a very serious concern.” Funds will subsidize the replacement or retrofit of an estimated 16,800 diesel trucks with models meeting federal 2007 emission standards, which emit up to 90 percent less pollution than older models. Health studies link diesel pollution to abnormally high cancer, asthma and heart disease rates in local communities. The owners of the cargo, and not truck drivers, will be charged the fee. Containers moved by train, car carriers and fuel trucks are exempt. “Thirty-five dollars on a container, which are worth an average $70,000, is less than a penny on your iPod, and a few cents is surely not too high a price to pay for dramatic improvements in Southern California air quality,” said Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster.