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Fuel surcharge bill gains support, faces opposition

Paul Cullen Jr.
The Cullen Law Firm PLLC

The fuel surcharge bill backed by OOIDA took several steps forward this spring with the public support of several lawmakers. In the House of Representatives, new co-sponsors to the bill include Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Rep. Tim Holden (D-PA), Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO), Rep. John D. Dingell (D-MI) and Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA). Sen. Zell Miller (D-GA) co-sponsored the Senate version of the bill. 

The number of co-sponsor on a bill shows the leaders in Congress how much public support it has. Lawmakers usually co-sponsor a bill because they are asked to do so by letters and telephone calls from their constituents. OOIDA continues to encourage its members to ask their lawmakers to become a co-sponsor of these bills.

Entitled “The Motor Carrier Fuel Cost Equity Act,” the bill is numbered HR2161 in the U.S. House of Representatives and S1914 in the U.S. Senate. It would require every motor carrier, broker, and freight forwarder to impose a fuel surcharge on shippers and then pass it through to owner-operators.

The Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) endorsed the fuel surcharge bill and is encouraging its members to voice their support. Motor carriers who have trouble asking shippers to pay for increased fuel costs will also benefit from the bill. If all motor carriers are required to impose a fuel surcharge, no carrier would be at a competitive disadvantage for doing so. Motor carriers that already impose a fuel surcharge on shippers are exempted from the mandate — although the bill does require them to pass through any collected fuel surcharge to owner-operators who pay for fuel.

Recent opposition to the bill seems to have come from the representatives of large motor carriers. The bigger less-than-truckload carriers have reportedly expressed concerns over the bill to Congress. While the American Trucking Associations (ATA) has publicly stated its neutrality on the bill for three years, its lobbyists have recently held up progress on the bill by voicing problems with it. This comes at some surprise because the ATA had previously stated that some of their members support the bill and some oppose it.

Larger carriers appear to be behind this opposition, but none have spoken publicly against it. Why not? That  question is even more curious since the bill will not affect those carriers. On one hand, the bill only applies to truckload carriers. LTL carriers, therefore, should have nothing to say about the bill. On the other hand, big truckload carriers who already get a fuel surcharge will not be affected by the bill. Do these carriers simply not want small-business truckers to get the same tool they use to survive?

Communication with lawmakers from truckers who support the bill is needed to overcome these roadblocks. Small-business truckers who will be helped by a mandatory fuel surcharge will need to speak louder in support of the bill than the representatives of big carriers who will not be affected by it.

Energy bill creeps along 
While the fuel surcharge bill is designed to help truckers recoup their higher fuel costs in the short term, greater energy self-sufficiency is the long-term solution. Congress has been working on a bill to promote greater domestic energy production and increased energy conservation. The House passed its version of the bill last August, and the Senate passed a different version this past April. 

The Senate energy bill proposes possible new requirements for heavy-duty trucks. The Secretary of Energy, in consultation with the Secretary of Transportation, would be required to conduct a study within 18 months to determine the potential fuel savings from “long duration idling of main drive engines in heavy-duty trucks.” After the study, the Energy Secretary may issue regulations requiring the installation of idling-reduction systems on all newly manufactured heavy-duty trucks.

Heavy-duty trucks are defined as those over 8,500 pounds with diesel engines, and “long duration idling” means “the operations of a main driver engine of a heavy-duty vehicle for a period of more than 15 consecutive minutes when the main drive engine is not engaged in gear...”

Idling-reduction devices would most likely include auxiliary power units. OOIDA has supported legislation in the past that would exempt the cost of auxiliary power units from truck excise taxes.

The next step is for members of the House and Senate to meet and work out the considerable differences between their two versions of the bill. This work may be difficult to accomplish during an election year.

New truck size and length clarification 
While the federal government may be looking at ways to reduce truck idling in the future, the Department of Transportation is trying to catch up on long overdue rules from the past. At the end of March, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) published a final rule defining what devices on a truck do not count toward a truck’s length and width. The FHWA began to work on this rule in 1989 with the intent to clarify several interpretations of the law that it had previously published. The new rule includes on the excluded list “virtually all of the equipment and devices the FHWA has previously indicated are, or should be, excludable from the measurement of vehicle length or width.” This list includes:

  • A device up to 8 inches long at the front of a trailer chassis the purpose of which is to secure containers and prevent movement in transit;
  • Non-load carrying tie-down devices on automobile transporters; Non-load carrying devices falling within the swing radius of the trailer as measured from the kingpin to the front corner of the trailer;
  • Any add-on equipment such as lift gates, winches, etc., at the rear of a trailer that do not extend more than 24 inches from the rear of a trailer in the up position;
  • Non-rigid aerodynamic devices that do not extend more than 5 feet from the rear of a trailer in the operational position. Such devices shall not obscure tail lamps, turn signals, marker lamps, identification lamps, license plates, hazardous material placards, or any other required safety device;
  • A front coupler device on a semitrailer or trailer used in road and rail intermodal operations;
  • Other devices at the front of a semitrailer or trailer including: air deflector, gladhand, pickup plate lip, reefer unit, removable bulkhead, tarp basket and more;
  • Devices at the rear of a semitrailer or trailer such as air compressor, handhold, ladder, lift gate, pintle hook, stake pockets and more;.
  • Devices excluded from width determination, not to exceed 3 inches from the side of the vehicle such as corner caps, rain gutters, side marker lamps, tie-down assembly on platform trailers, weevil pins and sockets on low-bed trailers and more.

Washington Insider recommends you consult the new rules to learn its finer details. The new rule also includes guidelines to determine the legality of items not included in these lists. A copy of the final rule can be found on OOIDA’s web site at ooida@ooida.com or in the Federal Register for March 29, 2002. (The Federal Register is the daily publication of federal documents, including proposed and final regulations.)

New motor carrier requirements proposed 
On May 13 the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration proposed new requirements for first-time motor carrier applicants. These rules will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2004. Congress asked DOT to write these rules in the same legislation that created the FMCSA. Although Congress also asked FMCSA to consider testing new motor carriers on the federal safety rules, the agency decided not to require a test.

Under the proposed rule, when a person applies to become a motor carrier, the FMCSA will provide him or her educational materials reviewing a motor carrier’s responsibilities under federal safety regulations. The new carrier will have conditional authority to operate for 18 months. At some point during that 18 months the carrier will be subjected to a safety audit conducted by a certified FMCSA official. 

The safety audit will consist of a review of required motor carrier safety documents and an interview with the motor carrier. The topics to be reviewed include: “the qualification of drivers; driving a commercial motor vehicle; hours of service; vehicle inspection, repair and maintenance; transporting and marking hazardous materials; controlled substances and alcohol use and testing; and financial responsibility.” If a carrier is deficient in any of these areas, it will be ordered to take corrective action or else risk the disqualification or fines that apply to established motor carriers.

You may review this proposed rule on the OOIDA web site at www.ooida.com. The public is welcome to submit comments and suggestions for these new rules to the FMCSA by July 12, 2002. Submit written, signed comments to the docket number appearing in the heading of the rulemaking to Docket Clerk, U.S. DOT Dockets, Room PL-401, 400 Seventh Street SW, Washington, DC 20590-0001. Visit http://dmses.dot.gov/submit/ to electronically file comments.