A congressional compromise on hours of service reform means it will be at least another year before a new rule kicks in.
The deal will permit the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to continue working on its reform proposal, and issue a supplemental proposal, but prevents the agency from issuing a final rule until after Oct. 1, 2001.
In effect, the compromise is between the American Trucking Associations and the safety agency. ATA wanted legislation that would prevent the agency from doing any work at all on this or any similar reform proposal for at least a year. What ATA got is the delay on the final rule, while the safety agency got to keep working on the proposal.
Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., sponsor of the ATA provision, told congressional negotiators that the compromise is reasonable.
“(It) should provide the incentive for the Administration to fully listen and solicit views on all sides of this issue,” he said.
“We’re pleased that we have the opportunity to continue the rulemaking process,” said FMCSA spokesman David Longo. “In fact, the rulemaking process is the issue here. We look forward to reviewing and analyzing all the comments and continuing to move forward on a final rule based on safety.”
ATA President and CEO Walter B. McCormick Jr. also praised the deal. “Congress has given us the opportunity to do the right thing for highway safety,” he said in a statement.
President Clinton haw not yet signed off on the legislative vehicle for this deal, the Department of Transportation appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2001, but he is expected to. When he does, it will close a tumultuous chapter in the progress of the controversial reform proposal.
The safety agency published its proposed rule last April, and originally indicated that it intended to come up with a final rule this year. It gave the industry 90 days to comment on the proposal, and passed the word that it might be willing to grant an additional 45 days if the industry needed time to gather facts for its comments.
But when the industry got a close look at the proposal, it pushed the alarm button. At field hearings held by the agency during the comment period, all segments of the industry expressed dismay at what they saw in the rule and said they needed more time for study and data gathering. The gist of their message: The proposal would force dramatic operational changes that would cost far more than the agency estimated and would not, in fact, improve safety.
Truckers took their concerns to Capitol Hill. A hearing was held in the House, where FMCSA chief Clyde Hart said he wanted to work with the industry to resolve their concerns.
After it became apparent to DOT officials that they would not be able to get the rule out this year, the safety agency extended the comment period, ultimately until Dec. 15 of this year. The agency also said it would hold roundtable discussions on the proposal, and held out the possibility that it would open a supplemental rulemaking – which in effect could amount to a substantive rewrite of the proposal.
Meanwhile, ATA enlisted Sen. Shelby’s support for a provision of the DOT appropriations bill that would cut off all funding for the rulemaking process. The move ran into opposition from DOT, and in the House, where Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., was adamant that the agency be allowed to continue working on the proposal.
Negotiations continued through September, and details of the compromise were only released this week after House and Senate conferees agreed on this and other provisions of the DOT appropriations bill.