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The truck program is just one part of a wide-ranging effort by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to curb pollution in and around the port. Photo credit: Shutterstock.

The Port of New York and New Jersey will ban trucks that are 23 years old or older, starting Jan. 1, 2018 — a less-stringent measure than the one it replaced two years ago, but one that still concerns truckers and environmentalists.

The prohibition, of trucks with engines dated 1994 or 1995, replaced a proposal that — until it was pulled two years ago — would have banned more than 4,000 trucks with engines dated 2007 or older from the port. The current plan will ban about 200 of the drayage fleet of about 9,000 trucks that actively serve the port.

Even so,  the port’s move has sparked anger from environmentalists, who say it is too weak and does too little to protect the health of area residents. Some truckers — among them owners of the aging trucks — question the necessity of prohibiting good working trucks from the port.

The truck program is just one part of a wide-ranging effort by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to curb pollution in and around the port. Like others around the country — especially in urban areas — the port it is trying to strike a delicate balance between the demands of area residents and activists pushing for cleaner air with those of truckers, terminals, carriers, and other port stakeholders invariably focused more on cost containment and efficiency.

Aside from removing older trucks from the port, the Port of New York and New Jersey’s efforts include trying to increase the use of intermodal rail, promoting the uses of barges to move across the harbor, and offering incentives to carriers that use the port to make voluntary engine, fuel, and technology enhancements to reduce vessel emissions. The port authority’s 2015 Air Emission Inventory, the latest completed by the port, said its efforts had cut nitrogen oxides (NO) by 24 percent since 2006, sulfur dioxide (SO2) by 98 percent, and greenhouse gases (GHGs) by five percent.

A similar report for the Port of Long Beach in 2016, for example, says its NO declined by 56 percent since 2005, SO2 declined by 97 percent, and GHGs fell by 22 percent.

Currently on the Port of New York and New Jersey’s drawing board is a plan to secure approval from the US Environmental Protection Agency, for the port to use “capture and control” technology, which would be used to reduce the pollution emitted from vessels that come into the port and continue running their engines, Bethann Rooney, assistant director, port commerce department, Port Authority of New York-New Jersey said.

The port is looking to assess the impact of the equipment, do a cost-benefit analysis, and figure out how it would manage the hook up and operation of the equipment, at which point the port can determine whether it is feasible or not, she said.

Rooney said the port also is considering a proposed pilot program to offer truckers incentives to buy electric vehicles, such as the heavy-duty electric tractors that Tesla Motors announced in November it will begin selling in 2019. One port-based carrier, Best Transportation, announced that it has already purchased a Tesla truck, albeit with the carrier’s own money, as part of the company’s “sustainability and fleet efficiency program.”

Whether the port authority can encourage others to make the move with an incentive program to aid Tesla purchases may depend on whether the port is allocated a share of the funds from the money awarded to New Jersey and New York, as part of Volkswagen’s compensation package for its widespread fraud in selling its diesel vehicles as far less polluting than they were.

In New Jersey, a bill advancing through the legislature would grant a share of the Volkswagen money to helping the ports of Newark and Elizabeth, where the main terminals at the Port of New York and New Jersey are located. The money, if the bill becomes law, would in part help replace diesel vehicles and equipment with those using low emissions engines, and also help the port acquire “maritime emissions control system pollution control equipment” at the port.

However, even if the money does not materialize, the port authority already has the funds to continue the existing truck removal program. The Jan. 1, 2018 truck ban was introduced two years ago when the authority abandoned the tougher ban on trucks with engines from 2007, and said it would instead rely mainly on offering financial incentives to encourage truckers to remove older trucks from the road and voluntarily replace them with new ones.

Last year, the replacement program — which offers a $25,000 grant to buy a vehicle with a 2007-or-newer engine if they replace one with a 1994 or 1995 engine — removed 183 trucks from the road, more than three times the number in 2016.

Rooney said the truck ban at the start of the year will help curb pollution and will not significantly hurt the drayage fleet needed to serve the port.

“What it does for us, is to continue to make incremental progress in helping to clean up the environment,” she said. “Where we have the ability to talk to the truck driver, we have talked to the drivers themselves, to make them aware. Many of them have indicated that they are retiring at the end of the year,” and will sell the truck for use elsewhere, where the there is no prohibition, she said.

The program has faced criticism from environmentalists, however, who say the port authority is taking baby steps when far bigger moves are required.

Amy Goldsmith, state director of Clean Water Action, a national environmental group, said the port’s current program of banning trucks with 1995 or older engines and financial replacement incentives will take 15 years to achieve the results obtained if the previous plan had been implemented last January. That plan, to ban all trucks from 2007 and older from the port, would mean just under half all of the active trucks would have to be taken out of commission. The 200 trucks banned this year is about two percent of all the trucks.

“So we are like decades behind,” other ports, such as California, which is looking to remove 2010 era trucks, said Goldsmith. “And we don’t see the Port Authority doing anything to catch up. We are not even in the 21st century. A 1995 truck is not even in the 21st century.”

But the logic of prohibition is far from clear for some owners of the banned trucks.

Jimmy Gonzalez, a 57-year-old independent operator who said he has been a trucker since the age of 18, says he does not know what he will do with his 1986 truck, which has a 1994 engine and so is banned from the port, from next Monday.

Gonzalez said he purchased a 2012 truck for $65,000 two years ago, in anticipation of the ban, and it has sat in a yard, unused, until he needed it. He said he will now use the new one, and leave the 1986 truck in the yard while he figures out what to do with it.

“A lot of these people, the drivers, they have families and they are going to be out of work,” Gonzalez said, referring to the owners of the banned trucks. “The only thing they have is their truck. That’s not right … A lot of these guys don’t have money to buy the truck.”

He said his truck always passed the state roadworthiness inspections, which included an emissions test, and questioned why the port didn’t crack down less on trucks and more on ships that he sees enter the port emitting fumes.

Jeffrey Bader, president of the Association of Bi-State Motor Carriers, said the organization has “reservations” about the truck ban, but it agreed to the proposal to head off the far more rigorous proposal two years ago.

“It’s not a battle that we are willing to have anymore, and we signed on to the deal,” he said. “We are supportive of it.”

Contact Hugh R. Morley at and follow him on Twitter: @HughRMorley_JOC.