By Charlie Morasch
Small-business truck drivers and owners maintain their equipment longer, battle thin profit margins and deal firsthand with rules on idling and emissions more than their mega-carrier competitors.
OOIDA’s DC office makes those points every day with congressional offices. And with emission-reduction regulations and technologies peaking, the timing may be as important as ever.
Mike Joyce, OOIDA director of legislative affairs, said issues defined as “green” or “climate friendly” have taken on a life of their own in the nation’s capital just as they have locally.
Much as OOIDA’s Board of Directors has asked staff to promote green initiatives that are sustainable and feasible, the Association’s DC office spends a good deal of time working to help lawmakers understand the practical mechanics of business and daily life for truck drivers and owner-operators.
“OOIDA’s board has actually created a green policy in line with what all of America is trying to do,” Joyce said. “And we’ve approached ‘being green’ as the point where the rubber meets the road. We want to be green and we want to be clean, but what are the costs of doing that?”
Joyce said OOIDA is following the dealings of a very active presidential administration and Congress, which has distributed $300 million in diesel grant money and considered a revolutionary cap-and-trade climate change program.
The work has its challenges, Joyce said. Grant programs may favor large trucking businesses, and laws and regulations attempting to cut diesel emissions may be impractical or entirely unaffordable for truck owners.
“There has got to be a sweet spot where policymakers can help encourage the purchase of this stuff without overburdening an industry in which the margins are just not there for deep investment,” Joyce said.
In the mid-2000s, APUs began flooding the market, accompanied by new reimbursement grants and rules from regulators in places like California and New York City, where some of the first truck idling crackdowns began.
At the same time, Beltway insiders were kicking around a funding vehicle that would eventually be known as the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act – a plan to distribute millions in grant and loan money for truck owners to purchase new equipment.
“You have to remember back a few years ago; an APU wasn’t at the top of truckers’ equipment wish lists,” Joyce said. “When anti-idle rules began to pop up and diesel prices spiked, APUs became a much more attractive investment.”
Last year, the federal government funded $300 million of DERA money as part of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
OOIDA supported DERA initially, though the Association has been less than enthusiastic about the program more recently, pointing out that many worthy truck owners likely missed out on opportunities or were not afforded opportunities – not because of their own fault, but because of difficult and short application processes.
Some of last year’s DERA money went to state and local grant programs that had short application windows, difficult requirements or both. Grants that appear to favor large trucking companies as opposed to small-business owners are unfair, Joyce said.
“Small-business truckers, who make up the majority of motor carriers in the trucking industry, deserve to have a responsive EPA and Department of Energy that support their desire to be clean and green, and don’t mandate reams of red tape. … This is their money, the truckers’ money, that’s being used for these programs,” Joyce said.
“They deserve to have the benefit of being part of these programs and shouldn’t have hurdles put up in front of them to successfully become a recipient of either a grant or a loan,” he said.
OOIDA will continue to keep the realities of day-to-day trucking front and center with Washington’s movers and shakers, and will ask members to call and write their congressmen to do the same, Joyce said.
“The more we can assist our members in understanding the policy nuances of these critical issues, the more they can support our efforts in DC and around the country to educate their lawmakers about how green policies affect the trucking industry,” Joyce said. LL