Spear keynote hints at winds of change at ATA

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Updated Oct 4, 2016
Chris Spear recently was named the ninth president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations.Chris Spear recently was named the ninth president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations.

Trucking remains the backbone of the nation’s freight system, but threats exist that could hinder the industry’s growth and productivity. “Don’t mess with trucking,” said Chris Spear, president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations, in reference to regulatory agencies and anti-truck groups.

Spear’s remarks came during his first address at the 2016 ATA Management Conference & Exhibition in Las Vegas. Spear recently was named the 9th president of ATA, following Gov. Bill Graves, who led the association for 14 years. Spear previously served as ATA’s senior vice president for legislative affairs in 2014-2015.

Joining Spear at ATA is a new senior executive leadership team, one that he says is committed to running the association like a business.

“The state of our industry is strong, but without leadership, unity or an aggressive pursuit of results, our future is uncertain,” said Spear. “At ATA, we are building a structure, a team and an agenda that not only provides certainty, but results.”

Protecting trade, improving infrastructure

One major agenda for ATA will be protecting trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and the more recent Trans-Pacific Partnership, both of which have come under fire from presidential candidates during the election season.

Trucks move roughly 70 percent of all surface freight between the United States and its NAFTA partners. “Any attempt to reopen or threaten this longstanding agreement could have dire repercussions on our industry,” said Spear. “And not adopting TPP will undoubtedly will push those potential Asian Rim partners towards a future agreement with China. America relies of free trade and trucking is key.”

Infrastructure funding will remain a core concern for ATA, said Spear, adding that the unwillingness by Washington lawmakers to adopt an indexed fuel tax increases safety risks due to a crumbling infrastructure. He said ATA may have to abandon its push for an increased fuel tax.

“If this is to be the fate of our nation’s fuel tax, then ATA must be prepared to realign our policies with the realities on Capitol Hill, beginning with a new means for funding our nation’s infrastructure,” he said. Spear has asked ATA’s Highway Policy Committee to develop a new proposal to put before the next Congress beginning next year.

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Warnings to regulators, anti-truck groups

On the regulatory front, Spear said ATA will continue to work with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and other agencies to ensure existing and pending regulations –Compliance Safety Accountability, electronic logging devices, parking and minimum insurance requirements, as well as any new regulations – are based on sound science and research and actually will accomplish their intended goals.

“Trucking is already one of the most regulated and taxed industries in America,” said Spear. “In the eyes of some elected officials, we look like a money-filled piñata. I’m here to tell you that those days, these impressions of our industry, are over.”

Spear also took the opportunity to call out anti-truck groups. “If you want to throw the first proverbial punch, you’d better knock us down,” warned Spear. “Because you will feel the one we throw back. ATA will fight your one-line soundbites and baseless rhetoric and we will publically call out the hidden agendas of other industry groups.”

Spear added that ATA will insert itself into discussions of autonomous technology and any future regulations. “The trucking industry cannot afford to concede an entire regulatory framework to another mode of transportation,” he said, referring to the automobile industry. “As your president and CEO, I will see to it that ATA takes its seat and drives this outcome.”