OAKLAND -- A half-dozen truck drivers were cited after they formed picket lines to protest new air pollution regulations and briefly blocked four entrances to the Port of Oakland on Wednesday morning, one of the busiest shipping days of the year, police said.
About 40 truckers, demanding compensation to help them comply with Jan. 1 requirements, started protesting before dawn, alternately blocking entrances to the port and Middle Harbor Road.
Protesters blocked the roadway as they were marching in the 1900 block of Middle Harbor Road. By 9 a.m. they moved to a traffic island at the main port entrance at the intersection of Middle Harbor Road and Maritime Street and planned to continue picketing and blocking traffic throughout the day, said Tarcilo Caldera, a spokesman for the Port of Oakland Truckers Association, which has about 400 members. At one point, a car trying to get past the protesters ran over an officer's foot, but he did not require hospitalization, police said.
Caldera said he thinks hundreds of truckers, including other independent drivers, will lose their jobs come Jan. 1 because they won't be able to buy 2007 or newer diesel engines, which cost $35,000 to $50,000, in order to comply with the new state regulations. In 2010, truckers at the port had to outfit their rigs with $20,000 diesel filters, and they are still paying for those, he said.
"A lot of these guys lost their homes in the financial crisis and don't have good credit now," Caldera said. "We complied in 2010 and now we're forced to buy new equipment."
He said his members can bring in $90,000 to $120,000 a year, but that's before expenses. Fuel eats up 35 to 40 percent of that revenue, he said.
The regulations that went into effect in 2010 have done wonders for air quality in West Oakland, according to a UC Berkeley study of diesel particulate in the air near the port. The study showed a 50 percent decrease after truckers started using the new filters. It also showed a 40 percent decrease in nitrogen oxide emissions.
The truckers want the port to charge fees to the port terminal operators and pass it on to them so they can buy new equipment, but that hasn't happened. They also want an extension to the Jan. 1 deadline.
"Our port director has had ongoing communications with terminal operators and motor carriers encouraging them to take a look at how they compensate truckers due to the high cost of cleaner trucks and terminal congestion," said port spokesman Robert Bernardo. "We can encourage our tenants to do certain things, but ultimately it's going to be up to our maritime partners to make those decisions."
Officials at one of the largest operators at the port, SSA Marine, did not return a phone call seeking comment on the issue.
Melanie Turner, a spokeswoman for the California Air Resources Board which drew up the new regulations, said truckers have known about the approaching deadline since 2007, and most have been offered financial assistance to comply. She said about 85 percent of truckers have upgraded to the 2007 model engines.
"If we extended the deadline, we would essentially be penalizing the 85 percent of truck owners who have invested to upgrade their trucks to 2007 or later to bring them into compliance," Turner said in an email Wednesday. "Thanks to this and other air quality regulations, there has been significant progress in cleaning up the port area in terms of air quality, but West Oakland still has the highest cancer risk from exposure to air toxics in the entire nine-county Bay Area region."
The truckers association said members voted to go forward with today's third work stoppage since the summer after meetings with Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and other leaders failed to produce the changes they are seeking.
Bernardo said as many as 2,000 truckers go in and out of the port. He said he does not anticipate any disruption to the port if a number of truckers do not meet the Jan. 1 deadline.
"We think the Port of Oakland will operate normally," he said.
Contact Doug Oakley at 925-234-1699.