With 2020 finally – and mercifully – in the books, a new year has dawned, along with a new administration in Washington. With the distribution of vaccines under way, we may be able to see an end to the COVID-19 pandemic – although we’re not out of the woods yet by any means when it comes to battling the virus.
In trucking, a big change this year is the new Biden administration. A new president always means changes on the regulatory front, because it's the executive branch and its various departments and agencies that write regulations. But in this case, we’re changing political philosophies as well in Washington as the Democrats have eked out control of the Senate – which means on some fronts, those changes will be more pronounced.
That said, I really don’t feel like this industry has much to fear looking ahead into 2021. The incoming administration has an awful lot of Code Red emergencies demanding its attention. Trucking as an industry is still riding high on a wave of good public relations based on its heroic response in the dark days of the pandemic. So any significant regulatory impact on the industry is probably not at the top of Joe Biden’s to-do-list.
That doesn’t mean that big things might not be coming our way. Things in Washington are pretty chaotic at the moment. But the big question is, will Republicans (who did pick up more seats in the House, and still make up half of the Senate) be willing to work with Biden on some middle-of-the-road issues that would benefit all Americans?
A good example is an Infrastructure bill, which the nation has needed for over a decade now as our roads and bridges are literally crumbling beneath the tires on our trucks. Getting such a bill together is something that everyone on both sides of the aisle agrees that we need. It would create thousands of new jobs to help the economy recover from the pandemic-induced economic chaos, and spark a boom in new truck, trailer and construction machinery sales. Surely our elected officials can put aside their differences long enough to do something as simple – and desperately needed – as that.
The other obvious policy change coming from the Biden administration will be on the environmental front. For the most part, we can expect that these changes will largely mirror what we saw from the Obama administration. So, expect a return to the Paris Climate Accords and a recommitted focus to green energy, alternative fuels, and fuel-efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions standards.
Moving ahead after this year, it is likely that trucking will see much stricter emissions regulations and a more aggressive push to use electric- and alt fuel-powered trucks. Biden was adamant during the campaign that fighting climate change would be a priority for his administration. And there’s no way he can tackle that policy agenda without affecting trucking in one way or the other. But again, my take is that this won’t be an early priority for him as he comes into office – although it likely will come up in infrastructure legislation. And it should be noted that razor-thin Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate will mitigate some of these new environmental proposals to one degree or another.
The biggest question for all of us – both in, and out of trucking – is the huge question mark hanging over both our society and economy. Assuming the COVID-19 vaccines work and we finally quash that virus – or at least bring it under some kind of manageable control – it’s uncertain what kind of economy and society will be waiting for us on the other side of the pandemic. I have a sense that things are going to be different, but I’m not quite sure how. I do think the pandemic will likely be a big booster for in-home shopping from here on out. So, I have a feeling in the long run, that outcome will be a major boost for the trucking industry moving forward, and we'll continue to see last-mile delivery and growing middle-mile operations as an opportunity for many fleets.
On the other hand… The speed at which things happen these days is blinding. As I write this, we’re 12 days away from Biden’s inauguration and it's been a tumultuous week. Who knows what may be completely different by this time next week. But hang in there. Calm, order, and normalcy are coming back to us. I expect to see that, if nothing else, happen in this new year.
Listen to more projections for 2021 as Jack Roberts joins HDT Editor in Chief Deborah Lockridge, Equipment Editor Jim Park, and Business/Washington Contributing Editor David Cullen in an editorial roundtable on the HDT Talks Trucking Podcast:
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