FROM THE EDITOR’S DESK: Federal ‘suggestion’ slowly gaining some traction

| 6/25/2008

Remember the federal law from a few years ago that was intended to give truckers a 400-pound weight exemption for auxiliary power units? The industry hailed it as good news until we found out the law was not a “mandate” – in other words, it had no teeth. A federal law that carries no clout with the states is not much of a law if your business is hauling interstate.

In Land Line, we published a copy of the federal language for truckers to carry in their trucks. Still, many truckers told us the states regarded it as little more than a “so what?”

That law is finally gaining some traction in some states. Here’s some quick background from our Land Line Magazine coverage, followed by an update.

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. This allows for the adding of a qualified idle-reduction technology, such as an APU.

Specifically, the rule 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.”

While the rule was approved, a memo out of FHWA’s Size and Weight Division in November 2005 threw water on the helpful news by adding that the exemption wouldn’t be treated as a federal mandate.

Here’s an excerpt from the FHWA memo: “We determined that (the exemption) does not pre-empt state regulations or compel the states to grant the increased weight tolerance.”

EPA wasn’t thrilled knowing this meant the exemption would not be honored nationwide.

Here’s a highlight from an EPA internal memo: “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. ... Truck owners have no way of knowing whether … a particular state may issue them a citation for their APU weight.”

After the federal “suggestion” was published, Land Line began receiving reports from truckers that enforcement officials in a number of states blew off the higher limit. Florida is one of those states that won’t acknowledge it. 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.

One state came right out of the gate in support. Oregon DOT’s Motor Carrier Division agreed to allow the additional weight, even before the legislature considered adding the language to the state’s own law books.

In 2007, a handful of states – Arkansas, Kansas, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin – adopted a 400-pound exemption law in some form or another.

Finally, this year some other states are moving on this, too. State Legislative Editor Keith Goble says since the first of the year, similar attempts have been made in a number of states.

He reports a cliffhanger in Missouri, where a lengthy transportation bill includes a provision that would increase the maximum gross vehicle, axle, tandem or bridge formula weight limits for large trucks equipped with idle-reduction technology. It would authorize affected trucks to weigh up to an additional 400 pounds. Keith says the bill is now on the governor’s desk.

Keith also reports a new law in Nebraska – formerly a state that did not acknowledge this federal “suggestion” – includes a 400-pound exception for anti-idling equipment. It also specifies that the weight allowance cannot be in addition to the “5 percent in excess of maximum load” provision in existing state law.

Along with the good, however, is some bad news. Those who pushed for the rule change in Alabama and Illinois failed to get the 400-pound exemption added to laws in those states.

Catch updates here on our Web site. Also, watch for more news and info in our big annual anti-idling 20-page plus package, coming in the August/September issue of Land Line Magazine.

– By Sandi Soendker, managing editor