Congress Acts Against Two Bad Rules

July 1, 2000
Tank truck fleets, and the trucking industry as a whole, got a couple of timely breaks from Congress over the past month. Steps were taken to block both

Tank truck fleets, and the trucking industry as a whole, got a couple of timely breaks from Congress over the past month. Steps were taken to block both the hours-of-service and ergonomics regulatory proposals.

That's very good news for the industry because both of these regulatory nightmares have fatal flaws that would exact a huge price from the US economy. Each would add significantly to truck fleet operating costs, and those costs would be passed along to consumers. US productivity overall would be hurt. Here's how things stood at press time: Both houses of Congress voted in June to deny Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) funding for its proposed ergonomics regulations. The House of Representatives went first on June 15, when it voted to prohibit funding for OSHA to "promulgate, issue, implement, administer, or enforce a proposal, temporary, or final standard on ergonomic protection." The Senate followed on June 22 with a similar measure that will prevent further ergonomics rulemaking by OSHA for one year.

The actions of both houses were attached to OSHA appropriations bills that now must be reconciled in a conference committee. From there, the final bill must go to the White House, and a veto is a virtual certainty. Considering the fact that the individual measures were adopted mostly on party-line votes (220 to 203 in the House and 57 to 41 in the Senate), it may be very difficult to overturn a presidential veto.

Despite the obstacles still ahead, the congressional action was very welcome. Under the Clinton-Gore administration, OSHA has been little more than a wholly owned subsidiary of organized labor. The ergonomics rule was in effect written by the labor unions and has a strong anti-business bias. A lot of bad science went into the rule development.

The standard would affect any operation with drivers who load and unload freight, employees who sort and deliver packages, and longhaul company drivers who perform manual lifting. Musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) injuries caused by extensive road vibrations or prolonged sitting also would be covered by the regulation.

OSHA contends that the new regulations would save billions of dollars a year due to reduced worker compensation claims. Industry counters that the compliance cost would be in the billions. The American Trucking Associations has calculated that the cost to trucking would be around $6.5 billion a year.

Over on the hours-of-service front, the trucking industry also is getting congressional help. On June 15, the Senate voted 99-0 to block the Department of Transportation from spending any money to finalize the rules revision. The order was part of the Senate appropriations bill for federal transportation projects in the next fiscal year.

As of press time, the House of Representatives had not yet taken action on hours-of-service. Some Senate members were encouraging trucking industry executives to contact Congressmen and advocate prompt action. As with the ergonomics rule, actions by the two houses on hours-of-service will have to go through a conference committee. In addition, the effort to block further hours-of-service will face the threat of a presidential veto.

If support for halting action on hours-of-service is as high in the House of Representatives as in the Senate, the trucking industry stands a good chance of prevailing on this issue. Popular support is very much against the proposed hours-of-service changes, which have a little bit of something for just about everyone to hate.

There is a widespread feeling that this rule change will place too high a burden on those who will be charged with compliance. Overall driving time would be significantly reduced, which would slash driver earnings while substantially increasing the number of trucks on the nation's highways.

Preliminary estimates suggest that the tank truck sector alone will need almost 10,000 new drivers to comply with the changes in the hours-of-service rules. The industry also will have to purchase around 9,200 more tractors and 10,000 more tank trailers. Total cost impact to tank truck carriers will be around $1.8 billion.

So, the congressional actions are welcome news. This isn't the time for celebration, though. These rules won't be truly dead as written unless members of the tank truck industry remain actively involved in fighting them.

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.