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Trucking Industry Eyes Cabotage Changes To Curb Carbon Emissions

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Protectionism continues to beat out common sense when it comes to US cabotage rules, despite appeals to the US Environmental Protection Agency by both US and Canadian trucking indus...

WASHINGTON, D.C. –Protectionism continues to beat out common sense when it comes to US cabotage rules, despite appeals to the US Environmental Protection Agency by both US and Canadian trucking industry insiders that the rule prohibiting foreign drivers from moving empty trailers is wasting millions and possibly billions of gallons of diesel and emitting thousands of unnecessary tonnes of carbon into the Earth’s rapidly deteriorating atmosphere annually.

“The American Trucking Association (ATA) and the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) both strongly support the energy self-sufficiency goals of our two great nations,” says a recent joint letter from ATA and CTA to top officials at the US Environmental Protection Agency and Departments of Energy, Commerce and Transportation.

“Under the present interpretation (of foreign trailer repositioning regulations), foreign drivers are not permitted to move or reposition empty trailers within the United States, resulting in a ‘double movement’ -ie. While a domestic driver repositions the trailer, the Canadian tractor (with no trailer) is moved by the Canadian driver to the same location -using twice the amount of diesel fuel needed to move one trailer.”

This latest volley from ATA and CTA is nothing new, just the most recent effort on the part of trucking industry insiders to engage the EPA in their fight to arrange a reciprocal agreement between the US and Canada to allow a foreign driver to drop a loaded foreign trailer, hook up an empty foreign trailer, transport it to a second location and then hook up a loaded foreign trailer for the return trip home. Currently, Canadian companies must hire a US driver to move the empty trailer to another location, necessitating the use of two tractors instead of one.

The original petition to have the interpretation of the cabotage rule changed, submitted jointly by the ATA and the CTA to US Customs and Border Protection in February of 2008, and a subsequent July 6, 2009 letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, containing reports of fuel wasted due to the regulation have so far proven fruitless. This despite reports from two major US trucking companies attesting to tens of thousands of gallons of fuel wasted due to the rule. Schneider reported no less than 60,000 gallons of diesel fuel wasted per month due to the foreign driver restriction, while Celadon reported using an average of 50,000 extra gallons of fuel per month due to the rule.

“These two carriers alone, on an annual basis, needlessly burn 1.3 million gallons of diesel fuel, emitting 16.2 metric tonnes of carbon as a result of current regulations,” says the joint letter from ATA and CTA. “Other carriers report similar figures for wasted fuel. Given the current state of conservation efforts by both the motor carrier industry and the Untied States and Canadian governments, this wasteful approach is unnecessary.”

Unfortunately, the joint effort by CTA and ATA to sick the EPA on its sister departments has so far proven fruitless.

“In general, the EPA supports the reduction of empty backhauls and deadheading to reduce greenhouse gas and other emissions…however, we must defer to the US Department of Homeland Security with respect to restrictions on international goods movement and immigration,” says a letter in response to ATA and CTA officials from the EPA. This, despite CTA CEO David Bradley’s claim that Canadian officials are willing to change the cabotage rules here if US officials are willing to do the same.

“The government of Canada has become officially engaged saying that it would make the necessary changes in Canada if the US were to reciprocate,” says Bradley. “There is an important principle at play here -if governments are not willing to fix something like this, how can they maintain any credibility in terms of wanting to make the North American supply chain more efficient and competitive, and with a lower carbon footprint?”

Changes to the antiquated cabotage rules are all tied up with immigration issues, according to Margaret Irwin, ATA director of Customs, immigration and cross-border operations.

“If it were up to Customs laws, nobody would care,” Irwin says. “This is all about people who are not US citizens working and getting paid for work in the US.”

Still it’s just a matter of interpreting the rules, not changing them, Irwin points out.

“According to the rules, once equipment and goods ‘come to rest’ in the US, they have to be turned over to a US driver,” says Irwin. “But the thing is, truck drivers from Canada stop at stoplights and stay at motels on their way down to their US destinations all the time. So clearly, there are different interpretations of what ‘coming to rest’ means. Canadian drivers get paid for driving into the US all the time, so why can’t they reposition empty equipment? This stuff is way down in the weeds,” sums up Irwin. “It’s really all about protecting US labour unions. But the practical reality is that supply chains these days have changed into more sophisticated pieces of business and we need to relook at these things and interpret differently to serve all of our purposes better.”

CTA won’t be giving up on the issue anytime soon, says Bradley.

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