New clean air guidelines seem like a good idea, but as some truckers at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports have discovered, there’s no such thing as a perfect solution to an environmental problem, according to a recent Los Angeles Times article.

California’s new guidelines, which will ban all pre-1994 trucks as well as 1994-2003 rigs that haven’t been retrofitted with diesel particulate filters as of Jan. 1 of next year, will cut toxic emissions at the nation’s busiest harbor complex, a boon to the environment and to residents' health.

In fact, since its introduction in October 2008, the “clean trucks” initiative has cut toxic emissions about 70 percent in the so-called diesel alley corridor, otherwise known as south Los Angeles County.

The problem is that the filters necessary to cut emissions are expensive — around $20,000 — while new “clean” trucks cost more than $100,000, leaving many drivers with few solutions.

"The first of the year will probably be the end of my family," said Filiberto Cervantes, a big rig truck driver who has already lost his car and moved into his truck to save on living expenses. "I don't know what's next."

Cervantes is one of thousands of truckers who could lose their jobs in 2010. No one knows exactly how many people will be affected by the new ban, but some estimates are as high as 5,000 truckers, most working-class immigrants from Mexico and Central America.

"This is hitting us hard," said Nelson Romero, president of the National Port Drivers Association, a group currently seeking to extend the Jan. 1 deadline. "It's not fair that everything falls on us."

Though the government made some subsidies available to purchase new equipment, many truckers complain that much of the funding went to big trucking firms such as Swift Transportation and Knight Transportation, leaving the little guy behind. Others say that the subsidies weren't big enough to make the new equipment affordable. 

"I don't think I could have afforded a new truck without the government's help," said Alejandro Flores, who used a government grant to purchase a new rig that runs on liquefied natural gas.

However, officials deny any favoritism given to big companies, countering that much of the more than $200 million in subsidies went to small firms, many of them family owned.

"There was no focus on anybody who was bigger than anyone else," said John Holmes, operations director at the Port of Los Angeles. "We're in a delicate balancing act here, too. We want responsible companies in this."

Of course, it doesn't really matter who is right on the subsidies issue. The bottom line is that many of the truckers unable to afford the upgrades will not have jobs next year.

"We need clean air, but not on the backs of the truckers," said Martha Cota, a Long Beach resident who suffers from asthma.

New California clean air guidelines come with a hefty price tag
Truckers in Los Angeles and Long Beach say equipment upgrades are too costly.