Graves: Congressional agenda emphasizes environment

Oct. 23, 2007
The change of power in Congress from Republican to Democrat majority has brought a new agenda to Capitol Hill with environmental issues

The change of power in Congress from Republican to Democrat majority has brought a new agenda to Capitol Hill with environmental issues now very much on the front burner, said Bill Graves, president and chief executive officer of the American Trucking Associations (ATA).

"This challenge comes in the midst of the significant reductions being required by EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) in particulate matter and nitrous oxide emissions," Graves said October 22 at the ATA Management Conference and Exhibition in Orlando FL. "Thanks to tremendous efforts by the engine manufacturers and truck manufacturing community since 2002, clean diesel technology has produced one of the great environmental success stories of our time. It’s a story that will continue to unfold in 2010, with the clean air benefits growing for years to come.

"We are very proud of our industry role in a cleaner environment, but cannot ignore the counter-productive nature of federal government objectives; on the one hand requiring cleaner emissions which challenge our ability to be fuel efficient, and on the other hand admonishing our industry for not being more fuel efficient and thereby contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. The trucking industry is more than willing to do its environmental part, but some degree of common sense and coordination in planning the steps toward progress would improve the chances for success and save the US business community countless dollars."

He pointed out that a number of initiatives promoting the use of renewable fuels are being advanced, but both formulas for handling oil imports and renewable fuels come at a significant cost to the industry. "While pure biodiesel has been shown to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 78 cents per gallon, those reductions come at a 9 percent energy loss," Graves said. "With the cost of diesel and crude oil prices at historic levels, the last thing the trucking industry needs is a scenario that requires us to burn more fuel."

He added that while ATA will continue to advocate for tomorrow's energy sources and solutions, the association will consistently remind public officials of the additional economic cost that every alternative has to this nation, and will point out the operational deficiencies many options pose for the trucking industry.

Turning to the Minneapolis Bridge Collapse, he said the tragedy was a reminder of the inadequate attention national leaders have paid to maintaining critical infrastructure. "This void in national leadership is not limited to America’s roads and bridges, and is negatively impacting many of the building blocks of the US economy," he said. "Already, Minneapolis has faded from the public consciousness and the tepid Congressional response was, to be blunt, no response."

Graves added that ATA is supporting investment in freight corridors, added capacity to unclog major bottle-necks throughout the country, pilot programs that assess the safety and effectiveness of greater use of longer combination vehicles, and raising the maximum weight limit to 97,000 pounds.

"There are no easy solutions and there are certainly no politically safe solutions," he said. "The Highway Trust Fund in its current state cannot afford to maintain the system we have, let alone repair it. We’re rapidly approaching a critical crossroads in how we build, maintain, and finance our highway and infrastructure program in this country. One path leads toward a reinvigorated national highway program with a strong federal-state partnership, while the other path leads toward a greatly diminished federal role with most of the responsibility for maintaining the system left to the individual states.

"States are already being enticed by the prospects of tolling and windfalls from private investment firms who understand, perhaps better than the states themselves, the value of our infrastructure. Having served as governor, I can tell you, when a long term funding partner walks away (in this case the federal government),you have to look at other options. The proposals on the table today, whether they’re called privatization, monetization or securitization, won’t be the last we see, and we should expect proposals of this nature to continue as the debate over the 2009 highway reauthorization begins."

Another trucking issue, that of the workforce, also drew Grave's comments. He pointed out that while the sluggishness of the economy in recent months has helped to ease some of the burden, the driver shortage is still very real.

"The recent U.S Court of Appeals decision to vacate the 2005 hour-of-service (HOS) rule relative to the 11th hour of driving and the 34-hour restart provision presents significant challenges for the industry," he said. "The ruling, if left in place, won’t just affect the way we conduct business, it will further diminish the quality of life of the drivers we’re already struggling to keep."

ATA has taken an aggressive stand in support of maintaining the 11th hour of driving and the 34-hour restart, asking not only for a stay of the decision, but a complete remand. In addition, the association has petitioned the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to initiate an expedited rulemaking process to address the concerns identified by the court.

"While there is still work to be done, it is our ultimate hope, and belief, that the final ruling of the court will keep the current provisions in place," Graves said. "However, if we have learned anything from this exercise, it is to expect the unexpected."