Climate legislation a hidden tax on trucking: ATA

WASHINGTON — Two prominent senators in the U.S. introduced a climate change bill that the trucking industry says is a hidden tax on highway carriers.

The American Trucking Associations (ATA) announced that it cannot support the American Power Act introduced to the Senate by John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).

The ATA says the legislation raises the cost of gasoline and diesel fuel without any real significant reduction of carbon dioxide by the trucking industry, which the ATA notes is a non-discretionary user of diesel fuel.

The 1,000-page American Power Act (do legislators in the U.S. write laws that are readable anymore?) would establish abase price would be $12 a ton for the amount of carbon used, increasing at 3 percent over inflation annually. The ceiling would be at $25 a ton, increasing at 5 percent over inflation every year.

The legislation, though, includes $7 billion a year to improve transportation infrastructure and reduce congestion.

It also doubles the tax incentives toward the purchase of clean natural gas trucks to $64,000. The goal is to reduce the payback timeframe for buying a natural gas-powered vehicle.

However, as refiners are forced to purchase billions of dollars worth of carbon allowances, their customers, including trucking fleets, will bear the brunt in the form of much higher fuel prices. As such, the Senate bill operates as a hidden multi-billion-dollar tax, says ATA.  

“While others might object to our characterization, the climate bill clearly imposes a tax on transportation fuels and reallocates revenue from that tax for non-transportation purposes," says ATA President Bill Graves said, adding that a very small portion of the tax would go to repairing highway infrastructure.

Unlike personal transport and some other businesses, trucking is not a "discretionary user of fuel," says Bill Graves.

"While the trucking industry has reduced its fuel consumption and carbon output through (various) efforts, the bulk of trucking companies’ fuel use is for their economically vital role of distributing freight whenever and wherever manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers and consumers demand."

The "cap and tax" legislation, says Graves, would force trucking companies to pay "for the reduction of carbon output three times over," when adding the Kerry-Lieberman proposal to what truckers already must pay in more expensive EPA-mandated engines and other technologies; and an increase in excise fees carriers pay into the Highway Trust Fund as the cost of trucks and tires rise.

ATA supports initiatives to reduce fuel consumption such as governing truck speeds, reducing idling, increasing fuel efficiency, creating national fuel economy standards for trucks, and allowing for more productive truck units, such as long combination vehicles (LCVs).

The ATA also supports a fixed fuel tax hike that would go towards repairing bridges and highways and eliminate congestion points.

As for the incentives for natural gas trucks, Graves points out that these will be attractive to only a small number of companies with dedicated, short-distance operations.

The Associated General Contractors of America was also not pleased with the legislation. The bill would give the Environmental Protection Agency free reign to approve or deny construction and rehabilitation projects, and this would create regulatory obstacles for builders, said Stephen E. Sandherr, CEO. 

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