U.S. Senate panel strikes fuel surcharge — for now

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The mandatory fuel surcharge OK’d by the U.S. House in its highway bill is not part of the U.S. Senate version approved by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

The surcharge could reappear later, however, when the House and Senate work out differences in their respective bills.

The surcharge is opposed by 22 business, shipping and transportation groups, including the American Trucking Associations, the American Moving and Storage Association and the Motor Freight Carriers Association.

It also is opposed by the head of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, who testified against it before a Senate subcommittee April 5.

The House’s surcharge legislation “would insinuate government into commercial relationships in a way that is ill-advised and that would reverse a quarter-century of U.S. economic policy,” Annette Sandberg told the Senate’s surface transportation subcommittee.

Sandberg also asked that the 2003 hours-of-service rule be made permanent, but with language that would allow FMCSA to revise it if necessary.

When Congress passed its most recent transportation funding extension, it required the current hours rule to be effective until the FMCSA issues a final rule. Federal courts have directed the agency to issue a new rule before Sept. 30.

“The new rule, like the old rule, will not please everyone,” Sandberg testified. “I am concerned that the revised rule will open the agency and the department to the same kinds of legal challenges we have experienced already.”

She expressed concern over proposed hours exemptions for agricultural transporters and utility vehicle drivers, exemptions that she said compromised safety.

Sandberg also:

  • Backed an amendment that would require the U.S. transportation secretary, not the Commercial Vehicle Safety Administration, to issue inspection decals for Mexican trucks.
  • Asked the committee to rework the passage it already approved that establishes medical review boards and creates a registry of qualified medical examiners. The language should provide advice on driver qualification standards, medical examiner education and research, Sandberg said.
  • Noted her agency’s progress against household mover fraud in states with the biggest share of complaints: Florida, New York, New Jersey and California.
  • The Senate is expected to cast a final vote on the transportation funding bill by early May, followed by the House and Senate’s conference process to reconcile differences between the two funding bills.

    The Senate committee approved more than double the current amount of truck safety funding to states through the Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program.

    The bill also would:

  • Require Mexican and Canadian hazmat haulers operating in the United States to undergo a background check equivalent to their American counterparts.
  • Offer greater consumer protection against household mover fraud and create new penalties for movers who hold customers’ possessions hostage to increase profit. It also would allow states the authority to regulate the intrastate movement of household goods.