Washington Insider

In the debate over regulation of the trucking industry, the relationship between trucking and agriculture is overlooked.

Trucking plays an integral role in getting food from farm to fork so that Americans stay nourished and productive. Therefore, any regulatory proposal that imposes an undue burden (I know, they all do) on trucking must take into account how this will affect the ability of farmers and ranchers to tend to their crops and livestock, which has a direct tie to Americans' ability to afford to keep themselves and their families from going hungry.

Agriculture could be small-business truckers' strongest ally in the fight against trucking critics, because agricultural interests are highly influential in Washington.

The trucks that move hay, grain, feed and fertilizer; the reefers that haul produce; the tankers that haul milk; the livestock trailers that haul cows, horses, pigs or even llamas; and the flatbeds that haul farm equipment are not part of the "megafleets" that often seem to dominate the highway landscape. While many of these ag trucks might enjoy certain exemptions as farm vehicles, many more have interstate operating authority and are thus subject to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. If a regulation hurts small-business truckers, it will hurt farms and affect Americans' ability to afford to eat.

The biggest threat to agricultural trucking is the effort by FMCSA and some in Congress to increase insurance requirements for commercial motor vehicles at the encouragement of influential trucking critics such as the trial bar, and labor and safety groups.

If the trucking critics get their way, insurance requirements for general freight (which includes most farming goods) will increase to as much as $4.5 million with insurance premiums skyrocketing up to 500 percent or more. Hazmat carriers, especially those hauling fertilizer, may have to be insured for more than $20 million.

The economic implications would reverberate throughout the distribution chain from seed to market. The cost of trucking would increase; therefore the cost of farming would increase; and therefore the cost of food would increase, in turn reducing Americans' spending power during a delicate economic recovery. Furthermore, the benefits to highway safety so desperately sought by trucking critics would not even register, because there are no safety benefits to putting the safest truckers on the road out of business.

Republicans in Congress have been steadfast supporters of OOIDA on maintaining the current regulatory regime in regards to the financial responsibility of commercial motor vehicles on principle. There has been no need to explain to them why increasing insurance requirements for truckers is a bad idea - by virtue of the fact that it's bad for business, which is good enough reason for them to side with us.

However, more Democrats are beginning to understand the futility of increasing the insurance burden for truckers and how harmful it is to the economy, and you can see this upon examination of roll call votes over the past two years on the truck insurance issue.

When the House of Representatives voted last year to strike language from a spending bill that would have increased requirements to $4.2 million, only four Democrats voted with OOIDA.

Earlier this summer when Congress voted to keep language in a spending bill that would prevent FMCSA from continuing its work on increasing insurance requirements, 18 Democrats voted with OOIDA. Most of those Democrats come from rural districts where agriculture is king. Farming constituencies play a critical economic role in those rural districts, and no amount of trial lawyer or union money can change that.

Trial lawyers only feed themselves, while farmers and truckers feed America. While it may not be readily apparent to most of us, Congress does understand the importance of American agriculture and will legislate accordingly. By getting policymakers to recognize the special relationship between trucking and agriculture, small-business truckers can prevail in their fight to survive. LL