House Passes Surface Transportation Bill

The U.S. Congress wrangled over H.R. 3, the surface transportation bill, removing some controversial provisions to gain approval of the House of Representatives conference report before the August Congressional recess. Both houses of Congress approved the resulting report. The House and Senate also approved a funding extension through August 14th to cover administrative expenses while the White House reviews the bill. Congress is in recess until September, indicating that body’s confidence that President Bush will sign the bill. The $286 billion measure is not far above White House targets.

A fuel surcharge provision that would have required the imposition of fuel surcharges and called for the Department of Transportation setting the level of the surcharge was removed. The National Industrial Transportation League (NITL) reported Hours of Service Rules and weight limits were also not addressed in the bill.

“While Congress included several initiatives that we believe will improve highway safety, we are disappointed that they failed to codify hours of service regulations as the Administration requested. We remain concerned that Congress’ inaction on Hours of Service will negatively impact overall highway safety,” said American Trucking Associations (ATA) President Bill Graves.

ATA expects the safety of intermodal shipping container chassis to improve as equipment owners, generally ocean carriers and railroads, will now be responsible for their equipment meeting highway safety operating standards.

ATA said it had successfully blocked the mandatory fuel surcharge that would have increased consumer costs for everything shipped by truck. The carrier group also claimed success in promoting revision of the screening process for commercial truck drivers with hazardous materials endorsements. The new bill directs the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to develop a system for notifying carriers if drivers fail to meet security criteria, explained an ATA statement. It also requires TSA to initiate a rulemaking to eliminate duplicative federal background checks. Canadian and Mexican operators transporting hazardous materials will be required to undergo a similar background check as their U.S. counterparts.

The House passed the bill with 418 “yes” votes. The eight Representatives opposing the bill include: John Boehner (R-OH), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), Walter Jones (R-NC), Ed Royce (R-CA), James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), John Shadegg (R-AZ) and Mac Thornberry (R-TX). Not voting in the House roll call were: Robert Brady (D-PA), Lois Capps (D-CA), William Delahunt (D-MA), Chaka Fattah (D-PA), Sam Johnson (R-TX), John Mica (R-FL), George Miller (D-CA), Ron Paul (R-TX), Joseph Pitts (R-PA), Richard Pombo (R-CA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), John Schwarz (R-MI), Fortney Pete Stark (D-CA) and Robert Wexler (D-FL).

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