Earth Day – Environmental Con

Michael Howe Hosts "In the Booth"Today is Earth Day, a day celebrated by environmentalists since 1970 in hopes of creating greater awareness of environmental issues. The trucking industry has long been a target of environmentalists, whether it is emissions, fuel efficiency, tire disposal, or for other reasons.

The Federal Highway Administration even has a web page devoted to outlining the vast number of environmental regulations affecting transportation that is worth checking out.
While no one in the trucking industry is an anti-environment, there are many who question the extremes to which regulators and legislators go. With every new environmental regulation costs go up for those in the industry. Are these regulations and costs always necessary?

The answer is NO! Interestingly, there is evidence that many environmental regulations are the product of pressure to appear environmental, not actual science. Some legislators and regulators even know certain policies are ineffective or worse yet, bad for the environment.

Click Here to Listen to what Todd Myers, Director of Washington Policy Center’s Center for the Environment, had to say about Earth Day and current environmental policy. He was a guest on my local radio program this past weekend.

Diesel Price Outlook

My latest article in Canada’s Western Trucking News (March 2013) addresses the outlook for diesel prices.




The good news – barring any major global events affecting oil supply, diesel prices should remain fairly steady with only moderate increases over time.  There are some indications diesel fuel prices could even decrease in the short term (though I would not hold my breath for that to happen).

Read the column by clicking here.

 

 

Increasing Fuel Taxes

My latest column for Challenge Magazine discusses state and federal fuel taxes.  While it is apparent there will be an increase in some form of fuel tax, especially at the state level, it’s currently unclear as to what that impact will be on the trucking industry.

In my column, I write, “From my perspective, it’s far easier to accept tax increases from state governments than the federal government.”  And, “Hopefully this will result in improved highway infrastructure, but unfortunately it will also likely result in increased costs to consumers – even those consumers the president has promised not to raise taxes on.”  I also reflect upon Congressman Tom Graves fuel tax devolution proposal from the last Congress – perhaps its time to take a closer look at that.

Click Here to Read the full article here at Challenge Magazine.


Canada’s Pipeline Controversy

The Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline Project appears to offer an impressive upside for the Canadian trucking industry and North America’s energy and economic future.  However, not unlike the Keystone XL Pipeline Project controversy I addressed last week (calling on President Obama and his Administration to approve it), Canada is also experiencing it’s own share of pipeline controversy.

Click here to read my feature about the project in the February 2013 Western Trucking News, a Canadian trucking industry publication from Woodward Publishing.

Kitimat Terminal



On a personal note, I’m honored to have this new opportunity to contribute to Western Trucking News.

Keystone XL – Approve It!

Keystone Oil Pipeline Contruction - North Dakota; Copyright © TransCanada Corporation. All rights reserved.

The TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline Project had been the source of much controversy during President Obama’s first term.  Opposed by environmental groups, touted by the energy industry, the debate is endless.  The Governor of Nebraska had to address to pressures from environmental interest groups in 2011 and ultimately denied a pipeline siting permit for the project that stalled the remainder of the planning.

Beyond state siting issues, the US State Department must also issue a Presidential Permit for the project (because it crosses international borders).  The President has enjoyed the cover of the state of Nebraska’s delay since 2011, but that delay is now over.  On January 22, 2013, Governor Dave Heineman gave approval for the pipeline’s siting through Nebraska.  The new path avoids the controversial “Sand Hills” area of Nebraska.

Read the Governor’s Approval Letter by clicking here.
Read TransCanada’s Statement on the Governor’s Approval by clicking here.


On the same day Gov. Heineman approved the pipeline, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked if we could expect the project to move forward now.  Carney largely avoided the answer, suggesting these things take time, and reminding folks that the Obama Administration blames the Nebraska Governor for the delay.  “One of the things that delayed or postponed this process had to do with the opposition of the Nebraska Governor and others in that state to the route that Keystone was proposed to take, the pipeline was proposed to take,” said Carney.  The “others” mentioned by Carney will likely oppose the pipeline regardless.

   If the President’s State of the Union is any indication, it’s unlikely he will move quickly on giving final approval for the pipeline.  The only comments related to energy security or independence in that address were directed at “green energy.”  “The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult.  But America cannot resist this transition, we must lead it.  We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries, we must claim its promise,” said Obama.

Read the President’s State of the Union Address by clicking here.

What the President and others in the Administration need to understand is that no matter how promising new energy technologies might be in the future, the United States and the globe are largely a carbon based society.  To do anything significantly different that would truly eliminate the need for carbon based energy will take much larger investments and infrastructure than most are willing to discuss.  That, in part, is why we need to continue to look at new energy technologies while still working to become more energy independent in the current reality.

  We need the Keystone XL Pipeline Project to be approved.  As such, I send kudos to my old friend, U.S. Senator John Barrasso and about 52 other Senators for sending a letter to President Obama encouraging him to “finish the review process and approve the Keystone XL pipeline by the Administration’s own March 2013 deadline.”

Read the text of the letter by clicking here.

  The letter concludes, “After four and a half years of stude, we urge you to stick to your deadlines.  The American people need a timely decision on the Presidential Permit.”

  I would argue that the American people not only need a timely decision, but they DESERVE a timely decision.  Far too often government delays important decisions in the name of appeasing certain interest groups.  Any delay in approving this project only hurts the American people.  The American people deserve the 5000-6000 temporary construction jobs; the American economy deserves the private sector investment of $20+ billion; states and communities along the pipeline route deserve the $585 million in new taxes; and the nation deserves strengthened energy security with the pipelines 1.1million barrels per day capacity (with contracts to support it).

Learn the facts by clicking here.

   Mr. President, approving the pipeline is good for America!


2012 Election – Now What

By Michael Howe

The 2012 election is over, the results – for the most part – are in, so now the question becomes “what does this all mean for the trucking industry?”

The one thing we knew for certain prior to the results being announced was that we would have a new Secretary of Transportation.  Current Secretary Ray LaHood had already made his intentions clear that he plans to step down at the end of President Obama’s first term.  When that will happen exactly is somewhat unclear, but certainly within the first few months 2013.  Will policies change much at the DOT?  Probably not.  There will continue to be an emphasis on stronger safety regulations for the trucking industry, concerns about infrastructure and more.  What will matter with the new Secretary is the level of emphasis placed on each area.

With the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) I would be surprised if current Administrator Ferro did not continue in that role for at least another year or two, unless the President decides to elevate her to Secretary (which I also doubt).  Under Ferro’s Administration the FMCSA has not been shy about shutting down high risk truck and bus companies.  In addition, FMCSA continues to work on EOBR mandates, Distracted Driving regulations, and of course the cross border program.  They also continue to research the Hours of Service regulations.

Outside of the bureaucracy, President Obama’s economic and tax policies create some concern for trucking companies.  This goes back to the old adage of the only thing you can count on are death and taxes.  Well, it’s the taxes part – specifically increasing taxes – that are most worrisome to the trucking industry.


In a second term Presidents don’t have to worry about re-election, so there is a tendency early in the term to be a little more aggressive.  The first 2-3 years might be the time when President Obama makes a big move on climate change issues.  Any such legislation from Congress or regulation from the EPA such as a carbon tax, stricter emissions regulations, or other climate related regulations would undoubtedly result in increased cost pressures on the trucking industry.

Fuel prices will continue to be a concern, though they would be a concern with whoever was in office.  The real issue here is what is our nation’s energy policy?  The Keystone Pipeline likely won’t easily become a reality – ok, it likely won’t become a reality at all.  You can also expect the administration to look more at fracking and perhaps work to impose regulations on that.  We’re not going to see a significant increase in domestic drilling and offshore drilling permits, so the largely unnecessary dependence on foreign oil will continue.  Expect prices to continue rising, fluctuating for seasonal demands, but rising overall.

Congress really didn’t change much either.

In the US Senate the Democrats were able to pick up 2 seats, though they are still far shy of the 60 seats needed to stop a filibuster.  This is interesting because with a filibuster the Republicans will still be able to prevent legislation of force a compromise.   Something to watch, however, will be an early attempt by Democrats to force a vote on limiting filibusters.

In the US House, Republicans retained control.  Rep. John Mica, Chair of the Transportation Infrastructure Committee (and friend of trucking) was re-elected, as was another friend of trucking Rep. Tom Graves.  Obviously there are other “friends of trucking,” but these are just two who I found to be of interest based on my interviews with them.

So, the end result – not much has changedWe have the same people in charge that were in charge before the election.  This is the same group of leaders that negotiated themselves into the corner that is the looming “fiscal cliff.”  This is the same group of leaders that has been largely unable to pass any meaningful long term highway bill (and no, the recent one was not long term in my opinion). 


Major issues facing the trucking industry in the next 6-12 months:

  • Fiscal Cliff
  • Electronic On Board Recorders (EOBRs)
  • Hours of Service (possibly)
  • Cross Border Trucking with Mexico
  • Who is the new Secretary of Transportation?
  • New Environmental Regulations
  • Additional Distracted Driving Regulations
  • Tax increases?
  • Infrastructure Funding
  • Fuel Prices / Energy Policy

And how will the trucking industry fare with any or all of those issues?

With Congress we have and will continue to have gridlock.

With the President, we have an administration not afraid to impose costly regulations on the trucking industry, and because Congress is in a perpetual state of gridlock there is little hope they can effectively legislate a way out of the costly regulations.  With the President, we have an administration not afraid to propose tax increases, and because Congress is in a perpetual state of gridlock they are almost always in a situation where a forced “compromise” is necessary to get anything done, thus opening the door for less than industry friendly proposals.

In essence, buckle up…….we may need to steer around a pot hole or two.


Related articles of interest:
Rough Road Ahead (Fiscal Cliff), Challenge Magazine October 2012
FMCSA’s Safety Resolve, Challenge Magazine November 2012
Talking Safety with Anne Ferro, Challenge Magazine June 2012
A Conversation with Ray LaHood, Challenge Magazine March 2012


Gas Prices and Energy Policy

Michael Howe Hosts "In the Booth"Hosting a local public affairs radio program offers many opportunities to interview policy leaders on a number of issues.  Occasionally, these issues touch topics that are likely of interest to my friends in the transportation industry.

This past week I had the great fortune of conducting two such interviews.  My guests were U.S. Congressman Tom Graves (R-GA) and former U.S. Congressman Bob Beauprez (R-CO).

Congressman Tom Graves (R-GA)
Congressman Graves

His name is likely familiar to my readers because it wasn’t that long ago I wrote a blog post giving him kudos.

In my radio interview we spent time discussing fuel taxes and his proposal to devolve the federal fuel tax back to the states – essentially giving control of much needed highway monies to a government closer to the people.

On the Highway Bill, Graves said, “It seems like every time this (highway bill) reauthorization comes around states are wondering what is going to happen. And why should they always be looking to the federal government to act….”

Regarding the Obama Administration’s energy policy and statements by Secretary Chu about gas prices: “What it really tells you is that…we do not have an energy plan and that the Administration has not put forth an energy plan but they have an agenda. The Secretary laid out what that agenda was, and that was not to see (energy) prices go down.”

Listen to the Graves segment here:  Congressman Tom Graves – ITB031012


Former US Congressman Bob Beauprez
Former Congressman Beauprez

This may also be a familiar name to my Challenge Magazine readers as I referenced him in one of my prior columns.

I invited Bob on my show to discuss one of his recent columns, “Obama’s Energy Policy: the dots don’t connect” (as printed in his online conservative policy e-Newsletter, “A Line of Sight”).

Regarding the near term future of energy prices as a result of the Administration’s energy policy, Beauprez said, “Hang on to your wallet if you can, it could get much worse.”

On the Administration’s solution to high energy prices, “What’s his (Obama’s) answer (on how to address energy price pressures)? He’s out there again demonizing the oil companies and talking about raising taxes rather significantly on the oil companies.”

Listen to the Beauprez segment here:  Bob Beauprez – ITB031012