The first appointments and actions of the Bush Administration look auspicious for trucking. Industry executives may have been cheered by the resumes of White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, and Deputy Secretary-designate Michael Jackson.
Card was DOT Secretary at the end of the first Bush Administration, then headed the automakers' association. Trucking CEOs thought highly enough of him in 1997 to make him a finalist in the selection to head the American Trucking Assns. before he withdrew from consideration.
Mineta arrives well versed in highway issues from having served as chairman of what is now called the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Before being named Commerce Secretary by President Clinton last July, Mineta held senior positions in Lockheed Martin, a major player in trucking, logistics and highway infrastructure.
Jackson has even closer industry ties, starting with his experience as Card's chief of staff at DOT; executive director of a commission on intermodalism that included ATA's then-president, Thomas Donohue; and counselor to Donohue at ATA for three years before spending the last four at Lockheed Martin, where he had constant dealings with trucking.
The President's first trucking initiative is popular with many fleets: End the ban on U.S. travel by Mexican trucks, in exchange for access by U.S. trucks to Mexico's interior. But it's hard to please everyone in an industry with as many issues — and ways of doing business — as trucking. Many U.S. carriers are eager to enter Mexico, although some fear they will lose business in the U.S. to lower-cost Mexican drivers.
Another early initiative that will help some trucking companies is the suspension and likely repeal of so-called “blacklisting” or “contractor responsibility” regulations. These rules would bar federal agencies from contracting with carriers and other suppliers that did not have satisfactory records on environmental or other matters.
The President may soon get another chance to please trucking and many other industries. He was not able to put an immediate stop to OSHA's despised ergonomics rule, which became final shortly before he was sworn in. However, if a simple majority in both houses of Congress passes a joint “resolution of disapproval” within the rule's first 60 days, the President could sign the resolution and overturn the rule.
The day President Bush took office, Card issued an order delaying any proposed regulations for 60 days. While trucking might like the slowdown in general, the freeze is holding up at least one rule that major players in the industry favor. That's the requirement that refiners begin producing ultralow-sulfur diesel fuel in 2006, which is projected to push up diesel prices. Nevertheless, heavy truck and engine makers and other trucking interests have strongly supported the rule as essential for achieving pollution reductions. It remains to be seen whether the new Administration will side with these interests — and a host of environmental and health organizations — or with the rule's equally ardent, and well-connected, opponents in oil refining and distribution.
The bottom line: The new Administration has yet to make all of the key appointments affecting trucking. Nor has it tackled some of the thornier issues, such as hours-of-service rules. On other matters it will have to choose between trucking and its usual allies or between different trucking segments. But the first names and actions to come out of the new crew look positive for the industry.