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 changed. We 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