SPECIAL REPORT: President Bush and Sen. Kerry on trucking issues

| 10/12/2004

By Michael Howe

As the Nov. 2 election approaches and the 2004 presidential campaign heats up, it shouldn't be too surprising that neither candidate says much about trucking issues directly. Historically, most candidates have not - until now.

President George W. Bush and Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry recently offered some valuable campaign time to be interviewed on trucking issues. Each candidate was asked the same 10 questions, which should allow everyone affiliated with trucking a glimpse at what it would mean to the industry for either man to be the next president of the United States.

Interview with Senator John Kerry vs. interview with President George Bush

MH: What, if any, personal exposure or experience do you have with the transportation industries, and the trucking industry in particular?

KERRY: I've been a member of the Commerce Committee for nearly 18 years, so I've had a lot contact with the various transportation industries and have worked on many of the major issues facing the trucking industry. In 2002, for instance, I introduced a bill that would have required fuel surcharges in shipping contracts for independent owner-operators. This would have significantly reduced fuel costs for independent drivers and placed them on par with some of the larger companies that already have these fuel surcharges built into their contracts.

BUSH: I've never owned or operated a commercial truck, but I appreciate and respect the job these hard-working drivers do to make all our lives easier and keep our economy growing, from delivering food to grocery stores to delivering purchases made on the Internet to our front doors.

MH: Fuel prices are a major portion of a carrier's or owner-operator's expense in operating a truck. Do you anticipate a continued rise in diesel prices, and if so, what will your administration do to mitigate the increases? (i.e., release from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, work with OPEC, increase domestic production, etc.?)

KERRY: I understand that diesel prices go to the heart of the trucking business, and I am committed to working on this challenge. I believe that we can stabilize energy prices and reduce price premiums caused by the Bush administration's mishandled foreign policy. I will not be afraid to stand up to OPEC to ensure a reasonable flow of oil, and my committed approach to stabilizing Iraq and promoting peace in the Middle East will help mitigate the "terror premium" that is contributing to high prices. A Kerry administration will also manage the SPR in a more consumer friendly manner by suspending fill when prices are above normal.

BUSH: I am concerned about how the price of fuel affects consumers and those whose livelihood depends on road travel, such as truck owners and operators. Diesel prices have risen in recent months along with other energy prices. Fortunately, the markets seem to expect diesel prices to moderate again in the coming months.

I am firmly opposed to increasing gas taxes and will fight any attempt to do so. I have proposed a comprehensive energy plan that will help to lower energy prices for the long term. It is designed to increase domestic production, encourage alternative and renewable energy, reduce dependence on foreign sources of energy, create jobs and promote economic growth.

Additionally, I called for opening just 2,000 acres of ANWR (out of a total 19 million acres) for energy development. ANWR could produce up to 1 million barrels of oil a day for the next 20 years, dramatically decreasing dependence on foreign oil and enhancing our national security.

As part of my National Energy Policy report, I called on the Environmental Protection Agency to direct a federal study examining potential improvements to state and local "boutique" clean fuel programs. The EPA has implemented regulatory changes to increase flexibility during the transition from winter to summer fuels. However, the renewable fuels standard in the energy bill represents the best opportunity to simplify our fuel requirements and increase flexibility within the system.

In April 2003, I announced the largest increase in corporate average fuel economy standards (CAFE) for light trucks in 20 years. My approach saves fuel, saves jobs by avoiding harmful economic impacts and saves lives by following the safety recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences. Once fully adopted, this rule will save 343,000 barrels per day of gasoline, or the equivalent of 1 billion barrels over 10 years.

The best way for our nation to address the energy challenges we face is by enacting a long-term energy strategy like the one I have proposed, one that will increase our energy independence and reduce energy costs for families, consumers, truck operators and small businesses.

MH: Terrorism remains a risk in the United States. What role should the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration have in CDL oversight? (Currently there is concern about terrorists using trucks as weapons, similar to the 9/11 attacks.)

KERRY: I think that the FMCSA's role should be to help states run an effective licensing system that can prevent terrorists or criminals from fraudulently obtaining a commercial driver's license. Also, the Department of Homeland Security requires background checks for Americans applying for a hazardous materials license, but does not require the same of Mexican or Canadian drivers. The highway bill, which President Bush has threatened to veto, contains a provision to extend the background check to these drivers, which will help reduce the chance that a terrorist could skirt foreign laws to obtain a license in order to cross the border. Ultimately, the federal role should be to ensure that those who deserve licenses get them, and identify those who try to exploit the system.

BUSH: We are facing a new kind of threat since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. My administration has taken and will continue to take every precaution necessary to defend America against any future attacks.

My administration has implemented a variety of measures to secure our transportation systems and to prevent future attacks. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has conducted over 30,000 Security Sensitivity Visits since October 2001. During these visits, the FMCSA and state investigators met with top carrier officials to assess security vulnerabilities and identify countermeasures that can improve security. FMCSA has since begun including SSVs as part of all compliance reviews on hazardous materials carriers to encourage increased vigilance within the industry. To diminish threats related to biological and other types of hazardous materials, the Department of Transportation's Research and Special Programs Administration issued new regulations intended to enhance the security of hazardous materials transportation. These new regulations impose a security plan and security training requirements on certain hazardous materials shippers and carriers and require a more systematic approach to transportation security and a specific focus on potential terrorist or criminal threats.

In December 2001, then-Homeland Security Adviser Tom Ridge and Canadian Deputy Prime Minister John Manley signed the "Smart Border" Declaration and associated 30-point action plan to enhance the security of our shared border while facilitating the legitimate flow of people and goods. Since its implementation, this plan has already helped to create a border that is secure and efficient - a border open for business but closed to terrorists. Also, we established the Free and Secure Trade program. This revolutionary program partners the U.S. and Canadian governments with the private sector to ensure a secure supply chain for low-risk goods. FAST was implemented in 2002 and is making many cross-border commercial shipments simpler, cheaper and subject to fewer delays - all while enhancing security.

We also acted to protect our transportation system by passing the USA Patriot Act, the comprehensive anti-terrorism legislation that includes a provision requiring background checks for individuals operating motor vehicles transporting hazardous materials. This rule requires routine background checks for drivers with a hazmat endorsement on their commercial driver's license. The required background checks must include a review of criminal, immigration, and FBI records.

MH: Do you believe toll roads are the solution to funding the construction of new highways? Would you oppose the implementation of tolls on existing highways? Along the same lines, would you support increased funding in the transportation bill to expedite the development of "truck only" lanes?

KERRY: I don't think toll roads are the solution to our infrastructure needs. Many states opt to use toll roads as a way to pay for their share of highway construction, but in general we should pay for highways out of the trust fund and existing state revenue. As for new toll roads, I think that we have a good opportunity to pass a highway bill that significantly increases spending, but if the president fails to sign it, then states will probably look for alternatives because our infrastructure needs are staggering. The Senate's highway bill, which I support, also contains a provision that allows states to use federal funding to build new trade corridors to accommodate increased truck traffic. This provision would let states construct more "truck only" lanes.

BUSH: The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is working with industry stakeholders to determine the safety impact of creating truck-only and truck exclusion lanes.

I believe that highway funding should come out of the Highway Trust Fund, and am strongly opposed to any effort to raise the gas tax. The administration's six-year, $256 billion highway reauthorization bill, SAFETEA, increases highway spending by 21 percent without raising taxes. The bill would also give states a number of congestion management tools, including a new Infrastructure Performance and Maintenance program to direct funds to traffic chokepoints and continued state flexibility to use tolling under certain limited circumstances to ease congestion at peak hours.

MH: Do you anticipate Mexican carriers operating throughout the NAFTA zone by the end of the next presidential term?

KERRY: In the Senate, I've worked very hard to ensure that Mexican domiciled trucks are held to the highest safety standards possible, so I was disappointed by the recent Supreme Court ruling which upheld the Bush administration's plan to allow them to cross the border without inspection. NAFTA does not preclude the U.S. from enforcing common-sense highway safety regulations, and I believe that the current administration has erred by allowing Mexican carriers to cross the border and travel anywhere in the country without first having environmental reviews.

BUSH: My administration has pledged to work with Congress to see that the U.S. fulfills our international obligations under NAFTA while ensuring U.S. labor and environmental standards. The agreement allows for Mexican trucks to operate across the border providing that they have complied with appropriate environmental, safety and operating criteria.

NAFTA has enabled Mexico and the United States to establish a solid, dynamic trading partnership, and in its first 10 years has helped increase exports to Canada and Mexico from $142 billion to $263 billion. This has enabled Americans to earn more, and increase their purchasing power, by contributing to more trade, higher productivity, better jobs and higher wages. The Supreme Court's recent ruling on NAFTA will open the way for the U.S. Department of Transportation to continue working with Mexican authorities to move forward with long-haul bus and truck operations. By truly opening the market between Mexico and the United States for trucks and buses, we are ensuring more opportunities for American companies, more jobs for American drivers and better deals for American consumers.

I am committed to free and fair trade that will keep open our border to the south in a way that ensures safety and helps American workers.

MH: Would you support extending special tax status to independent truckers, the small-business sector that maintains shipping capacity in much the same way that subsidized farming programs guarantee that we have the infrastructure to feed ourselves if the world turns on us? Energy corporations also have singular status with respect to taxation (wellhead and pipeline and refinery values, etc.)

KERRY: I'll look at a variety of options to help the small-business sector of the trucking industry maintain growth and viability. Policy makers tend to overlook how important independent truckers are to the economy. Last year, for instance, there was a strike at the Port of Los Angeles that prevented truck drivers from delivering their cargo to market. The weeklong standoff cost the economy over $1 billion a day. That situation underscores how important the transportation system is to the economy and what happens when it shuts down.

I believe that the government must enact policies that will ensure the long-term viability of our transportation system. My administration will reach out to the trucking industry to reach common ground on economic issues.

BUSH: The tax relief package I signed into law immediately increased the amount of money that small businesses can write off on their taxes from $25,000 to $100,000. Whether they are purchasing new machinery, communications equipment, or even a new vehicle, small and independent trucking firms will benefit from these qualified expenditures, because as small-business owners make investments in their businesses and improve their equipment, they will save money on their taxes.

MH: Would you support tax credits exclusive to trucking in exchange for retrofitting diesel engines for reduced emissions, as most will likely still be on the road in 10 years?

KERRY: I would consider doing that, because I feel strongly that we need to take steps to reduce vehicle emissions. I also support building more of the so-called idling reduction facilities on the interstate system so that truck drivers can keep their trucks running without wasting fuel. I've put energy policy front and center during this campaign because I believe strongly that we need real solutions for issues that have been ignored for years. The truth is we have to take steps to reduce auto emissions because doing so will improve the quality of life for all Americans and lower our dependency on fossil fuels.

BUSH: I have taken aggressive steps to reduce diesel emissions and help clear the air for all Americans. In 2001, my administration finalized new regulations to reduce engine emissions from heavy-duty trucks and buses by 95 percent, and to reduce the sulfur content in diesel fuel by 97 percent, providing for the cleanest running vehicles in history. In 2004, we finalized similar regulations for non-road vehicles - bulldozers, tractors and construction equipment - to reduce emissions by more than 90 percent using clean diesel fuel with 99 percent less sulfur. Taken together, these actions will prevent thousands of premature deaths and hospital visits, hundreds of thousands of asthma attacks, and millions of lost workdays. At the same time, these new diesel technologies offer significant fuel economy benefits that ease the financial costs of operating trucks at a time when Americans are facing high prices for gasoline and diesel fuels.

My administration has also partnered with the trucking industry through the Smartway Transport Initiative to improve efficiency, reduce fuel use and reduce emissions from freight transport. Finally, I support provisions in the Senate highway bill that would make it easier to place idle reduction facilities along interstate highways. These facilities will provide significant benefits to the trucking industry and cleaner air for all Americans.

MH: Since three-quarters of the truck-involved crashes are caused by non-trucks, shouldn't the government vigorously enforce the rules of the road on the motoring public as a means of reducing truck-involved crash injuries and fatalities, in addition to enforcing the rules of the road on the trucking industry?

KERRY: I believe that the government must be active in promoting safety on our highways for both cars and trucks. Because highway and road safety is enforced primarily by the states, my administration will work closely with state and local officials to ensure that we implement policies to reduce accidents and fatalities.

BUSH: Yes, law-enforcement authorities should enforce the rules of the road for all drivers. In addition, we are taking other measures to make roads safer. I proposed the Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act (SAFETEA) to help ensure that our transportation system is safe, secure, efficient and productive. Improving highway infrastructure and increasing flexibility, enforcement and funding for state safety initiatives will reduce road-related injuries for truck and non-truck passengers. Preserving flexible funding initiatives for states will allow them to identify and direct funds to meet their state and local transportation needs. SAFETEA will also continue efforts to streamline transportation programs and project approval and implementation.

Under the SAFETEA proposal, highway funding would grow by 21 percent over the prior six-year bill, TEA-21. The Federal Highway Administration is working to deploy the Intelligent Transportation Systems infrastructure in more states to improve pavement condition, bridges and infrastructural investment decisions. These efforts, combined with SAFETEA's flexible state funding measures, will help improve road conditions and engineering and minimize traffic congestion.

SAFETEA includes provisions for strengthening vehicle safety, governmental frontal crash test standards, tire safety, seat-belt designs and access to safety information at car dealerships. SAFETEA also creates the National Blue Ribbon Commission on Highway Safety. The commission is a 15-member body authorized to develop a realistic national safety goal and corresponding strategies in order to tackle the needs of engineering, education, enforcement and emergency response for the nation's highways. To supplement the commission, I have asked for $7.5 billion for highway safety and improvement, double the amount provided over the previous six years.

The FHWA will continue to intensify its focus on reducing the four types of crashes that result in the most fatalities and injuries nationwide: 1) run-off-road situations, 2) crashes at intersections, 3) pedestrian and bicyclist collisions with vehicles and 4) high-speed accidents. The objective of FHWA is to reduce the fatalities due to each of these crashes by 10 percent by 2007. In addition, FHWA plans to organize regional intersection safety workshops and support national strategies to increase seat-belt use.

MH: Do you support tax incentives for the production of biodiesel as a means for fueling trucks and reducing harmful emissions? Would you support a national standard on fuel blends (some localities - California - require a special fuel blend that is more expensive than other areas - there are pluses and minuses to this for the trucking industry.)

KERRY: Yes. I support investing in bio-fuels such as biodiesel. I support incentives for production of biodiesel because it can help clean the air, relieve pressure on diesel engine operators and create jobs. It will also be a goal of the Kerry-Edwards administration to reduce the number of fuel blends throughout the country. These many markets reduce competition and can contribute to high prices. We can greatly reduce the number of fuel blends without sacrificing clean air.

BUSH: I support increasing the use of domestically produced biodiesel to reduce harmful emissions. I will continue to work with Congress to pass an energy bill that expands use of biodiesel.

In 2001, following a directive from my National Energy Policy report, the EPA examined options to increase the flexibility of the nation's fuel system without affecting prices or fuel supplies. At this point, the agency continues to work with stakeholders to examine whether that is feasible.

MH: Lastly, why should the truck driver community, with an estimated 10 million registered commercial driver's licenses, vote to elect you as the next president of the United States?

KERRY: I think, simply, that I understand the needs of the trucking industry and the policy issues surrounding it better than the president. As I noted earlier, I've spent nearly two decades working on national transportation policy, so there won't be a learning curve when I enter office. Beyond that, we need to turn the economy around so that it's not slanted against the average American, especially the self-employed. I have a an economic plan that maintains tax cuts for low income workers and the middle class, helps reduce the deficit and creates jobs. The stronger the economy, the better off the trucking industry will be. The president has had three and a half years to strengthen the economy, and he has failed. It's time for new leadership.

BUSH: A strong U.S. economy means more trucks are on the road delivering more goods for Americans and the world. Over the past four years, my administration has focused on improving our economy and making America more secure. The tax relief I signed into law has helped to turn a fragile recovery into strong and robust economic growth. I worked with Congress to create an environment in which small businesses can prosper by reducing the tax burden, increasing opportunities for government contracting and making health care more affordable for small-business owners and employees. And I have urged Congress to make tax relief permanent.

Since August of last year, we have added 1.5 million jobs, and the unemployment rate in June (5.6 percent) was below the average unemployment rate of the 1970s, the 1980s and the 1990s. Over the last year, all 11 sectors of the economy have experienced payroll job growth, and America's economy is growing faster than the economy of any major industrialized nation. Real GDP has grown at the fastest annual rate in almost 20 years. Inflation, interest rates and mortgage rates are near historic lows. Home ownership is at a near-record level, and real after-tax income in America has increased 11 percent since the end of 2000.

While the economy is strong, there is still more to do. I will not be satisfied until every American who wants to work can find a job. My six-point plan to strengthen the economy will make health care more affordable and accessible; reform the legal system to prevent frivolous lawsuits that increase the cost of doing business; promote energy independence; streamline government regulations, especially for small businesses; pursue free and fair trade agreements that create jobs; and make tax relief for families and small businesses permanent. Taken together, these policies will free entrepreneurs and business owners to create even more jobs and raise salaries for workers.

We have also worked to make our nation safer by defeating terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan, and by dismantling, disrupting and destroying terrorists and their organizations all over the world. We are denying terrorists the chemical, biological and nuclear weapons they seek, and protecting our modes of transportation from falling into the hands of those who would seek to use them as an instrument to inflict terror. We passed the USA Patriot Act, the bipartisan legislation that equips law enforcement and intelligence agencies with many of the tools they need to track down and thwart terrorists. And we have provided unprecedented levels of funding to support police, firefighters and medical workers who are the first to respond to emergencies, including more than $13 billion since FY 2002 for training and equipment.

To keep our roads safe for travelers, my administration has proposed a 21 percent increase in overall funding under SAFETEA - which more than doubles funding for highway safety improvements and streamlines the review process so that highway improvement projects are completed in a timely manner. We would do all of this without raising taxes or compromising environmental protections.

I seek a second term as president because there is so much more we need to do to keep America strong and safe and growing, building on the progress we've made in these first four years, and I would appreciate your support.

Reprinted with permission of Michael Howe. Originally published by Through the Gears/Independent Contractor, truckjobseekers.com.

Mike Howe may be reached at write_howe@yahoo.com.

For more information on John Kerry and his campaign, visit johnkerry.com. For more information on George Bush and his campaign, visit georgewbush.com.

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