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Somewhere Over the Rainbow...

By Clifford F. Lynch

DC Velocity, October 2008

OCT. 1, 2010. The big news this fall, of course, has been the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series, but possibly even more exciting than that (at least to the supply chain community) was yesterday’s announcement of sweeping new transportation legislation.

Known as the Transportation Equity Act of 2010, the new law makes major strides in resolving some of the energy and infrastructure issues facing the country. Among other provisions, it establishes five new undersecretary positions in the Department of Transportation, one each for air, motor, rail, water, and pipeline transportation. These new staff members will serve as liaisons between the DOT and the industries for which they are responsible. All five will be chosen from industry ranks.

In addition, the new law prohibits the inclusions of earmarks in any future transportation legislation.

Most important of all, however, is the statement of a National Transportation Policy. The new policy provides that the federal government, in cooperation with the several states and through the appropriate governmental agencies, will:

      Recognize and discharge its responsibility to ensure that every mode of transportation enjoys an infrastructure adequate to meet the needs of efficient commerce.

      For five years, regulate the price of oil at a to-be-determined level high enough to encourage conservation and the development of alternative fuel sources.

      Grant significant tax credits to owners of commercial vehicles using alternative fuels.

      Grant a one-time minimum tax credit of $5,000 to purchasers of new automobiles using alternative fuels.

      Provide a $50 million grant to the first manufacturer that successfully tests and introduces an over-the-road tractor that will get at least 12 miles to a gallon of fuel.

Most industry observers never thought this day would come, but a movement that began quietly in the fall of 2008 resulted in the election of several legislators who understood and were anxious to solve the problems of both infrastructure and energy.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, neither candidate seemed to have a good grasp of the issues, offering such lame remedies for the energy crisis as properly inflated tires, gas tax holidays, taxing the oil companies, and drilling in locations that would be acceptable to environmentalists. At the same time, the best solution the DOT could offer to the infrastructure crisis was to "let someone else do it" – privatizing highways and bridges. It apparently overlooked the fact that railroads were already privatized but needed help as well.

To add insult to injury, the DOT and Congress became embroiled in a childish argument about the DOT’s cross-border program test. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar was quoted as saying, "The secretary of transportation continues to flout the will of Congress." (Not that it was such a bad idea had been done for the right reasons.)

In any event, the supply chain community had enough, and the result was a grassroots movement to make the industry’s voice heard. The Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals, the International Warehouse Logistics Association, the National Industrial Transportation League, and other influential industry organizations encouraged their members to get involved, and many did so. It was a wonderful demonstration of what can be accomplished at the ballot box.

Change is never easy, however, and the legislative development process was often contentious. Earmarks, as always, were a major source of controversy. And although the previous highway-transit bill expired in September 2009, it took a year to finally reach agreement on the current bill.

But…agreement we have, and the supply chain industry is looking forward to a progressive, exciting, and innovative 2011.

 

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