The newly inaugurated Obama administration on Tuesday, Jan. 20, halted all regulations that had not taken effect by that date, a move that could delay several Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations issued in the past couple months. On Jan. 23, the new regime at the Department of Transportation also withdrew the draft final rule on electronic onboard recorders — a rulemaking the White House was unable to review and issue before Jan. 20.
But FMCSA did take action on the last full working day before President Obama’s inauguration to ensure that the new administration would not be able to undo easily the final regulations governing truck drivers’ hours of service.
In a Jan. 16 letter to several organizations, FMCSA stood by its decisions to retain the 34-hour restart and 11 hours of driving, saying that there had been ample scientific evidence backing the safety of the regulations. Public Citizen, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, the Teamsters Union and the Truck Safety Coalition on Dec. 18 had filed a petition for reconsideration. Those groups now have 60 days after the Jan. 16 denial to file for a review of the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which twice has struck down the Bush administration’s hours-of-service rules on various grounds.
The Obama administration also could initiate its own reconsideration of the hours rules, but it would have to start over from the beginning with a notice of proposed rulemaking. The Bush administration’s Nov. 19 publication of the hours rules came in just under the wire in order to avoid the moratorium on rules the Obama administration declared last month and possible congressional action to negate them.
Although the moratorium affects all rulemakings at least temporarily, the targets are major rules that are politically controversial. It’s not clear that any of the three regulations FMCSA issued in December would be targeted. In fact, departments and agencies have the authority to let some regulations proceed without further review. As of late January, it was not clear whether the Department of Transportation or FMCSA would object to any recent rulemakings affecting motor carriers. The three regulations that could be affected are:
The most controversial of the three probably is the intermodal regulations, but any disagreements are chiefly among different industries and probably not between Democrats and Republicans. Under legislation enacted in 1996, Congress can stop rulemakings by a majority vote in both the House and Senate and the president’s signature if those steps occur within 60 days of submitting the freeze to Congress.