Bumpy Road Ahead On the Environment

May 1, 2001
AS THIS ISSUE of Modern Bulk Transporter goes to press, President George W Bush has just completed his first 100 days in office. According to several

AS THIS ISSUE of Modern Bulk Transporter goes to press, President George W Bush has just completed his first 100 days in office. According to several polls, the public generally thinks he is doing a good job.

Bush gets some of his lowest marks on environmental issues. One reason is that he and Christine Todd Whitman, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator, don't seem to be working from the same script. In addition, Bush has backpedaled on some of the promises he made during the campaign last fall.

Probably the best example of environmental missteps is what happened on carbon dioxide. Candidate Bush called for reductions in carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. Whitman announced plans to move forward with that effort only to be overruled by the White House. It was probably the biggest gaffe to date for the Bush Administration.

Political observers say some of Bush's actions, especially his decision to review the Clinton/Gore directive to lower arsenic levels in water, have hurt him among suburban voters. Faced with an outcry for what some have claimed are anti-environmental actions, the Bush Administration has been forced to retain other Clinton/Gore initiatives.

Trucking definitely has felt the impact of this shift by the Bush Administration. Trucking in general, and tank trucking in particular, seem likely to pay a high price for the Bush Administration's political difficulties on the environmental front.

Dual hammer blows came in February. First, the United States Supreme Court unanimously upheld the EPA's right to set air pollution standards without considering the cost to business. The Bush Administration followed that by announcing that it would accept an EPA plan to drastically cut the amount of sulfur in diesel fuel by 2006.

Since then, Whitman has affirmed a Clinton/Gore-era rule to lower the threshold for reporting of lead used by industry. The standard will require any company that manufactures, processes, or uses 100 pounds of lead or more annually to report such use to the EPA as part of the Toxics Release Inventory. Think batteries and wheel-balancing weights.

The new wastewater effluent treatment rules remain in effect for tank cleaning operations and are being enforced by the EPA. It is highly unlikely that there will be any effort to roll back these regulations.

Clean air rules relating to volatile organic compounds may be tightened under the Bush Administration. Nationwide mandatory requirements for chemical vapor recovery are a definite possibility.

On the plus side, the Bush Administration has launched an initiative to reform the brownfields program. This is a program that promotes the renovation and reuse of industrial sites that may have been contaminated. Bush wants to reform the program by giving state and local governments greater flexibility and needed resources to turn environmental eyesores into productive community assets. More than $38 million in grants have been awarded for 36 new brownfield pilot projects.

President Bush also announced that the United States would not ratify the Kyoto agreement, a badly flawed international agreement on global warming that could have crippled US industry. Under the treaty as it currently exists, US industry would have been forced to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions, while China and other countries were exempt.

Senate Democrats, after first criticizing the president's actions, now say they would support administration efforts to radically alter the treaty. There is growing support for efforts to shift from mandatory to voluntary compliance for reducing emissions of gases that trap heat in the Earth's atmosphere.

Even with a new president who is attuned to the needs of business, the trucking industry is in for a bumpy ride on the environmental front. This is no time for fleet managers to let down their guard on these types of issues.

About the Author

Charles Wilson

Charles E. Wilson has spent 20 years covering the tank truck, tank container, and storage terminal industries throughout North, South, and Central America. He has been editor of Bulk Transporter since 1989. Prior to that, Wilson was managing editor of Bulk Transporter and Refrigerated Transporter and associate editor of Trailer/Body Builders. Before joining the three publications in Houston TX, he wrote for various food industry trade publications in other parts of the country. Wilson has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and served three years in the U.S. Army.