Truckers threatening to sue Ports of Seattle-Tacoma over clean air enforcement

New rules requiring trucks that use the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma to have cleaner engines are to go into effect Jan. 1, but the deadline could be extended.

If so, at least 10 trucking company owners say they will sue.

"This is the fuel tank for these Kenworths," said Rob Graham. "And this is the def tank."

Graham is eager to show how he has outfitted his fleet of Graham trucks with the newest, cleanest engines.

"There's a lot to these trucks that we didn't have to do before," he says. "It all costs money."

Money he says he spent to meet new clean air standards for trucks set by the ports of Seattle and Tacoma back in 2007.   And the costs don't stop there.

"You get less fuel efficiency now because of all the emissions stuff," Graham said. "These trucks live, literally live, in the shop.  So it's a ton of money."

Now that money may have been spent for naught.  Since the new rules were issued, the Seattle and Tacoma ports have merged into the Northwest Seaport Alliance. No one from the ports would talk to us on camera.

But they say just half the trucks that use the ports are in compliance.

Many independent truckers have struggled to pay for new, cleaner engines.

"This is a serious public health risk that we thought we were on our way to helping alleviate," said Craig Kenworthy, Puget Sound Clean Air Agency executive director.

Kenworthy says the ports knew not all truckers would be compliant by Jan. 1. But that is no reason to extend the deadline even one year.

"Is a year so terrible?" he was asked.

"The port staff estimated to their commissions, and we think it's a good estimate, that a year of delaying the truck deadline would produce 65 more tons of toxic diesel pollution in the areas around the ports in Seattle and Tacoma," he said.

Rob Graham says he and nine other truck companies plan to sue.

"Clean air was important then, but it's not important now?" asks Rob Graham. "I don't know.  I think they should enforce the mandate."

The port says many of those who haven't been able to comply are immigrants who haven't earned enough to buy the new engines. So they want to give them time.

Rob Graham says instead, money should go to the trucking companies that tried to do the right thing.

The Port commissioners could announce their decision early next year.

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