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October 29, 2007 7:45 AM, EDT

Graves Urges Industry to Lead on Warming, Highway Issues

By Sean McNally, Senior Reporter
This story appears in the Oct. 29 print edition of Transport Topics.

ORLANDO, Fla. — American Trucking Associations President Bill Graves challenged industry leaders to move aggressively to lead the national debate on climate change, linking truck emission reductions to higher fuel consumption and the need for greater trucking productivity to alleviate congestion.
In his Oct. 22 State of the Industry speech to trucking executives at ATA’s Management Conference & Exhibition, Graves also pushed for a strong federal role in financing highway and infrastructure construction.
“Environmental issues, once on the back burner, are now front and center [in Washington],” Graves said. “As an industry, we have a unique opportunity to position ourselves as leaders in the climate-change debate.”
Graves told ATA’s leaders that trucking must “pick our battles” and that it was critical that they approve a sweeping list of environmental policies later in the meeting, to “ensure our collective voice is heard.”
“It is critically important that, by the conclusion of this MCE, the professional staff of ATA is equipped with clearly articulated environmental policy positions, so that we’re fully engaged in the ongoing debate on Capitol Hill and ensure our collective voice is heard.”
Graves said that recommendations of ATA’s sustainability task force, “will make great strides in reducing our fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.”
Later in the meeting, ATA en-dorsed a six-point plan aimed at reducing the carbon footprint of trucking and giving the federation a proactive stance on the issue of climate change (see story, p. 1).
Graves noted that the push on greenhouse emissions comes as trucking is undergoing significant changes to federal emission rules aimed at reducing smog and other pollutants.
“This challenge, of course, comes in the midst of the significant reductions being required by [the Environmental Protection Agency] in particulate matter and nitrogen oxide emissions,” he said, calling the emission reductions achieved by engine changes in 2002 and 2007 “one of the great environmental success stories of our time.”
“It’s a story that will continue to unfold in 2010, with the clean air benefits growing for years to come,” Graves said.
However, Graves admonished the federal government for several “counter-productive” objectives in the area of environmental regulation “on the one hand requiring cleaner emissions which challenge our ability to be fuel efficient, and on the other hand admonishing our industry for not being more fuel efficient and thereby contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.”
“The trucking industry is more than willing to do its environmental part but some degree of common sense and coordination in planning the steps toward progress would improve the chances for success and save the U.S. business community countless dollars,” Graves said. 
He later noted that renewable fuels, such as biodiesel, reduce greenhouse emissions by 78% but reduce the energy of fuel by 9%.
“With the cost of diesel and crude oil prices at historic levels, the last thing the trucking industry needs is a scenario that requires us to burn more fuel,” he said.
Graves also had sharp words for political leaders in Washington, chastising them for failing to do enough to maintain the country’s vital infrastructure.
“America has been living off of the vision and political courage of this nation’s ‘greatest generation’ for 50 years,” he said.
Graves said the collapse of the Interstate 35W in Minneapolis briefly drew attention to the country’s failing roads and highways, but he bemoaned the fact that “already Minneapolis has faded from the public consciousness and the tepid congressional response was, to be quite blunt, no response.”
ATA, Graves said, already has positioned itself to advocate additional spending on infrastructure, saying the federation has been “an early leader in advancing a visionary agenda necessary for America to maintain its global competitive advantage.”
“Our policy calls for investment in freight corridors, for added capacity to unclog major bottlenecks throughout the country, pilot programs that assess the safety and effectiveness of greater use of longer combination vehicles and raising the maximum weight limit to 97,000 pounds,” Graves said.
He added that advancing that agenda would require greater participation from ATA members in the political process.
“There are no easy solutions, and there are certainly no politically safe solutions,” he said. “The Highway Trust Fund, in its current state, cannot afford to maintain the system we have, let alone repair it.”
Graves said the nation was at a “crossroads,” in how it funds infrastructure, and the country could either renew a strong national program, coupled with increases in the federal fuel tax, or push the responsibility to individual states.
If the federal government pulls back from its transportation responsibilities, Graves warned that states would be likely to move forward with more tolling and privatization schemes to raise transportation dollars.
“States,” he said, “are already being enticed by the prospects of tolling and the windfalls from private investment firms” and, without federal involvement, states “have to look at other options.”
“The proposals on the table today, whether they’re called privatization, monetization or securitization, won’t be the last we see and we should expect proposals of this nature to continue as the debate over the 2009 highway reauthorization begins,” he said.