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July 23, 2012 8:15 AM, EDT

Congressman Vows to Battle EOBR Mandate as ‘Catastrophic’ Burden on Small Businesses

By Timothy Cama, Staff Reporter

This story appears in the July 23 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

If an amendment to block funding for an electronic onboard recorder mandate does not make it into law, its main sponsor, Rep. Jeff Landry (R-La.), said he is prepared to do whatever he can to stop the federal government from mandating such devices.

Editor’s note: See this week’s related editorial, ‘Mandating Logging Devices’

Landry told Transport Topics that he will continue working to make sure the devices are not required on trucks, as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has proposed to do in a move it said would increase compliance with hours-of-service regulations.

“The potential impact it has on small businesses is catastrophic,” Landry said. FMCSA has “not been able to prove to us that the cost of implementing this is going to make a difference.”

The House voted in June to pass an appropriations bill that included Landry’s amendment blocking a mandate for EOBRs. Though the transportation law signed July 6 tells FMCSA to write the regulation, it could not do so if Landry’s appropriations provision becomes law (7-9, p. 1).

The Senate’s transportation spending bill, which the Appropriations Committee passed in April, contains no such provision and encourages FMCSA to write the regulation. Senate leadership had not scheduled a vote on the measure as of last week.

Landry said he doesn’t buy the federal government’s assertion that an EOBR mandate would create a benefit of $344 million to the country.

“I’d like to know who put that study together,” he said. “I want to know if the person who put that study together is a business owner.”

Landry specifically mentioned a stand-alone bill to block the regulation as a possible move, but he did not reveal much more of his strategy.

At a July 11 congressional hearing about the effects the Compliance, Safety, Accountability program has on small businesses, Landry assailed FMCSA Deputy Administrator Bill Bronrott on EOBRs.

“I don’t understand how the president gets up in front of the national media and says to the American people that he is for small businesses, and that he is for doing away with regulations that burden small businesses,” Landry said. “And yet you, as his representative, you as his mouthpiece, come over here and tell us that you are willing to promote a regulation that imposes a $2 billion cost on small businesses in this country.”

Bronrott said little to defend the regulation, except to say that the cost-benefit analysis of the proposal resulted in a net benefit.

“Fatigue is a leading cause of crashes, and far too many of them cause death and injury,” he said.

An FMCSA spokeswoman refused to comment on Landry’s accusations.

For Landry, the top reason to oppose an EOBR mandate is its costs for small businesses, which comprises the vast majority of the trucking industry.

“The president gave a speech . . . he stood up and said, ‘I have instructed my administration to comb through needless regulations and to identify those regulations which are going to be burdensome to small businesses,’ ” Landry told TT, adding that he believes FMCSA is going against the president’s wishes. “So was he disingenuous?”

Landry maintained that, if trucking companies believed that EOBRs would save them money, they wouldn’t need a government mandate to adopt the technology. He referred specifically to Daniel Miranda, a witness at the hearing who owns a small trucking company.

“The government didn’t have to force him to buy a fax machine to see that there’s a benefit to putting one in his office,” Landry said.

The same day as that hearing, FMCSA posted a notice on its website to respond to questions and criticisms of a mandate.

The agency plans to release a supplement to its previous EOBR proposal late this year, it said. A federal court overturned a previous mandate for carriers with the worst record of hours-of-service violations, and because that rule used the same technological standards as the agency’s universal mandate proposal, it needed to tweak that proposal.

In the new notice on its website, FMCSA said the estimated $2.4 billion cost of the mandate will fall when it unveils its new proposal this year because of the wide availability of low-cost EOBRs.

“While FMCSA is still assessing cost data and projections, the availability of these cheaper devices should significantly decrease the estimated cost of the rule, compared to that of the 2011” estimate, the agency said.

FMCSA used a $1,775 EOBR as the basis for its 2011 proposal, but devices as cheap as $500 are now widely available.

The lower cost doesn’t sway Landry at all, however.

“That’s not going to spur my interest,” he said. “If it is going to save those small businesses money, they will figure it out on their own.”