FRA’s 2018 Policy Priorities

The U.S. wood supply system is the largest and most highly developed in the world, providing the raw material that furnishes our country’s seventh largest industrial sector:  forest products.  Overregulation threatens this system’s ability to continue to serve both its economic and environmental goals in a sustainable manner, especially in view of the large role small business plays in this system’s function and management.  FRA monitors and engages public policy processes that impose unreasonable costs and overly burdensome processes on the wood supply chain or that impede sensible reforms that might enhance competitiveness.

Paralysis by overregulation places in jeopardy the livelihoods of mills, employees, and dependent communities; harvesting and forest operations contractors and their employees; and the ten million private, institutional, and industrial forest landowners that support its resource base.  In the end, a dysfunctional wood supply system would not only be economically devastating but would expose the forest resource to wildfire and disease, leaving watersheds and wildlife habitat vulnerable and compromising the character of our country’s landscape.

What is overregulation?  The intrusion of government into the management of private business to an extent not justified by the duty to promote the general welfare or to achieve transparency in exercising that duty.

Reform Needed: Truck Weight Reform

Impact:  U.S. forest industry is compelled to spend more on per-unit raw material transport than its global competitors do. Enabling a log truck to increase its payload by one quarter could reduce total hauling costs by close to that amount and (conservatively) reduce net costs per delivered ton by 5%.

The Issue:  Although transport from woods to mill is a relatively brief phase within the wood supply process, it accounts for approximately 30% of the total cost of raw material. While technological development has lowered the per-unit cost of harvesting, federal truck weight rules—limiting gross vehicle weight to 80,000 pounds on five axles on the Interstate system—have prevented significant savings in basic transport. Our country’s main competitors—Canadian, Nordic, South American—haul under much less restrictive weight rules. Seasonal or freight-specific weight allowances in certain states demonstrate the safety and practicality of gross vehicle reform.

Status:  Although the Technical Findings of DOT’s Congressionally mandated “Truck Size & Weight Study,” release on June 5, 2015, generally affirmed the positive impacts earlier studies have attributed to both the 97,000-pound/6-axle and the 91,000-pound/6-axle configurations, by August 2015, it became clear that the 91,000-pound/6/axle configuration had a better chance of passage as a component of the 2015 Highway Bill (The “FAST Act”). On September 10, 2015, Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wisconsin) introduced the Safe, Flexible & Efficient Trucking Act (HR 3488) with those provisions and on November 3 offered it as a floor amendment to the FAST Act. In spite of a strong push by advocates, the amendment failed to attract majority support, and the House rejected it, 187-236. Nonetheless, this show of support is significant, and FRA will continue to pursue federal truck weight reform by other means.

The FAST Act does contain state-specific Gross Vehicle Weight relief for trucks hauling forest products. Log trucks may now haul with a 98,000-pound/6-axle configuration on a designated 16.2-mile section of Wisconsin Interstate 39; and a 99,000-pound/6 axle configuration for a designated 25.1-mile section of Minnesota Interstate 35 (both priority segments for log haulers). In Idaho, 129,000-pound trucks may now access that state’s Interstate system, provided their configurations are bridge-formula compliant. In Maine and Vermont, the Appropriations Omnibus passed in mid-December 2015 makes permanent the terms of the pending pilot project allowing state-legal truck weights on both states’ Interstate system.

The Appropriations Omnibus also directed DOT to deliver the Truck Size & Weight study’s final report within 60 days and criticized the preliminary Technical Findings report’s claims of “data limitations” that DOT had invoked to avoid making policy recommendations in accordance with available data.