A tidal wave of regulation

If it sometimes feels like you're facing a fire hose of government regulation, there's a good reason you are. A recent list of proposed federal legislation of interest or concern to the American Trucking Assns. runs 23 pages with three or four bills per page. Some of the proposals involve things like minor changes to tax codes or clarification of existing laws, but most are attempting to address issues

If it sometimes feels like you're facing a fire hose of government regulation, there's a good reason — you are. A recent list of proposed federal legislation “of interest or concern” to the American Trucking Assns. runs 23 pages with three or four bills per page.

Some of the proposals involve things like minor changes to tax codes or clarification of existing laws, but most are attempting to address issues of significant impact for commercial vehicle operations.

In the House of Representatives, for example, there is a bill to create an infrastructure bank that would fundamentally change the way we fund highway projects, and a companion bill has also been submitted in the Senate. Sticking with infrastructure for the moment, there's another House bill proposing a tax on all imports and exports that would be used to pay for highways serving as “trade corridors,” and another to address congestion issues at international ports of entry. Yet other House proposals would remove toll restrictions on federal highways, allow state and local governments to sell or lease federally funded highways, and let states opt out of federal-aid highway programs tied to the Highway Trust Fund.

More specifically aimed at trucking, there are both Senate and House proposals to fund more parking for commercial vehicles, to study shipper detention of drivers, to prohibit the use of wireless devices by truck drivers, to raise bond requirements for brokers, and to mandate the use of EOBRs for all drivers subject to HOS rules.

Increases in truck weight and length limits on either a limited or broad basis seem to be a favorite legislative target, with nine different bills under consideration in both houses of Congress.

Natural gas use in transportation would get a financial incentive under one House bill, and there are bills in both chambers that would provide tax incentives for fleets investing in advanced truck safety technology such as vehicle stability and lane departure warning systems.

There are even nearly identical bills in the House and Senate that would “prohibit the shipping, transportation, selling, purchasing, or donation of horses to be slaughtered for human consumption.” I had no idea that was a problem big enough to take legislative time away from dealing with issues like job creation and runaway regulation.

I don't think I'm being cynical to suggest that a number of these bills were created to please lobbyists, contributors and constituents, and that their sponsors have no expectations of passage, or of even seeing them move beyond referral to some dead-end committee list. But many are serious attempts to legislate trucking activities that do warrant “interest or concern.” In those cases, the political gridlock we saw emerge over the debt ceiling this summer may have a positive side effect as I expect that partisan maneuvering will only get worse as we head into the 2012 election cycle and that we'll see little, if any Congressional action on bills of substance.

Of course, that 23-page list only covers legislative activity. It says nothing about proposed rules from the many federal agencies that touch trucking, rules that govern everything from hours of service to recordkeeping. And since agency rulemaking isn't directly subject to Congressional action or approval, you may actually see an increase in that activity if the Obama Administration decides to try an end run around House and Senate election posturing.

However it plays out, though, I'm afraid there's no relief in sight for the onslaught of rules and regulations for trucking.

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