Fact check: California trucking regulations aren't to blame for cargo backlog

·8 min read

The claim: A cargo backlog in California is due in part to a statewide 'truck ban'

President Joe Biden announced Oct. 13 that the port of Los Angeles, the nation's busiest, had agreed to operate around the clock to help fix supply chain issues across the country.

"This is the first key step toward moving our entire freight transportation and logistical supply chain, nationwide, to a 24/7 system," he said in remarks at the White House.

The announcement came amid a backlog of cargo on the West Coast, spurred in part by an increase in consumer spending as pandemic restrictions ease. The delays came to a head in September, when a record number of ships waited off the California coast to deliver cargo.

On social media, some have adopted an alternative explanation for the backlog.

"The NEWS says the California port situation is caused by a driver shortage," reads a Facebook post published Oct. 13. "Not so fast: It is in part caused by a California Truck Ban which says all trucks must be 2011 or newer and a law called AB 5 which prohibits Owner Operators."

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The post racked up more than 13,000 shares within one day. Similar versions of the claim have also accumulated tens of thousands of interactions on Facebook, according to CrowdTangle, a social media insights tool.

But experts say trucking regulations aren't to blame for the cargo backlog.

"To attribute the problems of today to this mandate is not accurate," Miguel Jaller Martelo, co-director of the Sustainable Freight Research Program at the University of California-Davis, said in an email. "I would concentrate more on low wages, and new shipping trends that resulted from shifts in demand and consumption patterns during COVID."

USA TODAY reached out to the Facebook user who shared the claim for comment.

In an aerial view, container ships are anchored by the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles as they wait to offload on Sept. 20, 2021, near Los Angeles.
In an aerial view, container ships are anchored by the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles as they wait to offload on Sept. 20, 2021, near Los Angeles.

Most trucks already compliant with engine rule

The regulations cited in the Facebook post are real. But experts say they aren't contributing to supply chain delays in California.

Let's start with the first rule mentioned in the post: the "California truck ban" that says "all trucks must be 2011 or newer."

The Commercial Carrier Journal, a news outlet that covers the trucking industry, reported in 2018 that the California Department of Motor Vehicles would soon start registering trucks only if they were in compliance with the state's truck and bus regulation. That rule calls for the majority of trucks, including those that service ports, to have a 2010 or newer engine by 2023. Some trucks with older engines had to comply with the regulation by 2020.

About 96% of trucks serving California's major ports are already compliant with the rule, according to Karen Caesar, an information officer for the California Air Resources Board.

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"As of this year, 2021, only trucks with engines older than 2005 would have their registration denied," she said in an email. "So any truck with a 2007 or newer engine is currently in compliance with the regulation."

At the port of Los Angeles, for example, all trucks with access to the port in August had 2007 or newer engines. Caesar also noted the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have had additional, stricter requirements for older trucks for years.

"These rules are not new," Matt Schrap, CEO of the Harbor Trucking Association, which represents carriers at West Coast ports, told USA TODAY. "The only thing that's close to new is the DMV registration ban, but that only includes vehicles that are not currently in compliance with the rule, which does not include any of the trucks that are in operation at the ports of L.A. and Long Beach."

Emissions regulation, labor law not yet enforced on trucks

The Facebook post cites two other proposals that would affect the trucking industry in California. But they aren't contributing to the cargo backlog, either.

Why? They aren't yet applicable to California truckers.

The post mentions California Assembly Bill 5, legislation that went into effect in January 2020. The law required companies that hired independent contractors to reclassify them as employees. It was designed to regulate companies like Uber and Lyft, but it could also have ramifications for truckers, who often work as owner-operators.

The law has faced several challenges, so it's not yet clear if it will go into effect.

In January 2020, a Los Angeles judge ruled the "gig worker" law did not apply to independent truck drivers because they were subject to a federal statute that bars states from passing legislation that dictates prices and services offered by motor carriers. An appeals court reversed the decision in November.

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The Supreme Court has declined to hear the case, filed by trucking company Cal Cartage Transportation Express. However, the justices have yet to consider taking up a similar case from the California Trucking Association, a trade organization.

"If the Supreme Court decides not to hear the case, then basically, overnight, the existing owner-operator model will be eliminated in the state of California," Schrap said. "But again, that is not in effect now."

Another proposal mentioned in the Facebook post, "a law that makes (trucks) illegal in 2035," has also not yet taken effect.

In September 2020, Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, announced a ban on new gas-powered cars by 2035. The executive order would require new cars and light trucks to be zero-emission by that year, although some medium- and heavy-duty trucks would have an extra decade to comply with the mandate.

This Oct. 17, 2018, file photo shows a Chevrolet Volt hybrid car charging at a ChargePoint charging station at a parking garage in Los Angeles.
This Oct. 17, 2018, file photo shows a Chevrolet Volt hybrid car charging at a ChargePoint charging station at a parking garage in Los Angeles.

Newsom's executive order would only apply to new vehicle sales, and it's not set in stone. The measure directs the California Air Resources Board to draft regulations aimed at achieving the 2035 goal.

"The 2035 standard has not been adopted yet," Schrap said. "The executive order does not have the effect of law – it needs to be promulgated and adopted by a regulatory body and then subsequently enforced by a regulatory body."

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Experts say it's tough to nail down one specific reason for nationwide supply chain issues. But available evidence points to a combination of COVID-19 outbreaks at manufacturing plants, rising labor and logistics costs, and supply and staffing shortages.

"Overall, American supply chains are very stressed right now," David Correll, co-director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's FreightLab, said in an email. "In my experience, inquiring about the root causes of pandemic-era supply chain failures is kind of like a Rorschach test."

Our rating: False

Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that a cargo backlog in California is due in part to a statewide "truck ban." Experts told USA TODAY the regulations cited in the Facebook post have no bearing on the current supply chain issues on the West Coast.

Most trucks at major California ports, including the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, are already in compliance with a rule that requires trucks to have newer engines. A law that would effectively eliminate the owner-operator trucking model faces a court challenge and isn't yet in effect. And state regulators are still drafting rules called for by an executive order aimed at banning the sale of new gas-powered cars and light trucks by 2035.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: California cargo backlog not due to trucking regulations

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