Feds accepting comments on 400-pound APU exemption

| 6/6/2006

While regulatory agencies continue to debate how it will be implemented, only one thing is certain about a provision in the Energy Bill that allows a 400-pound weight exemption for auxiliary power units – it has left many truckers confused.

The exemption, which was signed into law by President Bush in August 2005 as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, increases a vehicle’s maximum gross vehicle weight limit and axle weight limit by 400 pounds, which is designated for the adding of a qualified idle-reduction technology, such as an auxiliary power unit.

The Federal Highway Administration announced a “notice of proposed rulemaking” in the Federal Register on May 1 to solicit comments from the public. If the rulemaking is approved, the exemption would modify Title 23, Section 127(a) of the U.S. Code – vehicle weight limitations for interstates.

Specifically, the rulemaking requires – by demonstration and/or certification from the manufacturer – that the idle reduction technology “is functional at all times, does not exceed 400 pounds gross weight (including fuel), and that the unit cannot be used for any other purpose.”

However, even if the rulemaking is approved after the comment period, a memo from FHWA’s Size and Weight Division in November 2005 indicates that the exemption is not a federal mandate. Rather, the memo states that it is each state’s prerogative to decide whether to honor the additional weight limit.

“We determined that (the exemption) does not pre-empt state regulations or compel the states to grant the increased weight tolerance,” the memo said. “Rather, (the exemption) simply increases the federal interstate maximum weight limits to compensate for the weight of the APUs installed.”

Rick Craig, director of regulatory affairs for OOIDA, said the Association plans to file comments regarding the rulemaking, with particular concern about the fact that an APU that breaks down would not meet the exemption’s qualifications, making truckers in that situation subject to citations.

“I think one of the things we’re going to argue is, what if the APU quits working?” Craig said. “If it’s not working, would they cite you for being overweight? What are you supposed to do – the minute it quits working, remove it and ship it in for repairs?”

Craig encouraged truckers to submit their own comments before the June 30 deadline.

“The Federal Highway Administration needs to hear from interstate truckers,” Craig said. “They need to understand why a system that isn’t in every state won’t work for any state.”

Environmental Protection Agency officials have also voiced their concern over an exemption that would not be honored nationwide.

“The non-preemptive nature of the 400-pound weight waiver creates a disincentive for trucking companies and owner-operators to purchase and use mobile idle-reduction technologies,” an internal EPA memo stated. “Truck owners have no way of knowing whether … a particular state may issue them a citation for their APU weight.”

Land Line has received several reports from truckers that enforcement officials in several states are not honoring the higher weight limit, including Florida and Nebraska. Officials with some states, however, told Land Line and OOIDA’s Member Assistance Department that they were not explicitly acknowledging the exemption, but that their weight tolerances would cover an additional 400 pounds.

Although some states are not following the measure, the state of Oregon has gone public with its support. Oregon DOT’s Motor Carrier Division has agreed to allow the additional weight, even before the legislature has considered adding the language to the state’s own law books.

“Many truck drivers prefer to carry their own anti-idling device because they park in varied locations and their routes often change,” ODOT officials said in a press release. “They can’t always take advantage of ‘truck stop electrification’ areas where they can plug in to a stand-alone heating, air conditioning, and power system or the more sophisticated shore power systems available for specially modified trucks.”

Supporters within the trucking industry said that without nationwide support, the higher weight limit is useless to truckers who do interstate business.

“We’re trying to do good by the environment, but we’re also trying to do good by our bottom-line business practices. We’re trying to conserve fuel when fuel is at this high price,” said Mike Joyce, senior government affairs representative for OOIDA.

“And somebody fining us for their interpretation, their state’s desire not to participate in the program, is counterproductive to what we think the intentions of the members of Congress were.”

– By Aaron Ladage, staff writer