June 12, 2019

Chairs DeFazio, Norton Statements from Hearing on the State of Trucking in America

Washington, D.C. — The following are opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, from Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR), and Chair of the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) during today’s hearing titled: “Under Pressure: The State of Trucking in America.”

Chair DeFazio:

Thank you, Madam Chair, for holding this aptly titled hearing.

The trucking industry is reaching a tipping point as carriers and drivers face mounting pressure. The policies Congress chooses to enact to relieve this pressure will have real impacts on public safety, carrier operations, and truck driver wages and working conditions.

Carriers have set the expectation that they can and will deliver more goods, faster, and at the lowest possible cost. In many cases, drivers absorb the uncertainties of goods movement – everything from congestion and wait times at ports and shipper facilities to fluctuating fuel prices.

Drivers who are compensated by the mile, not by the hour, face the false choice of getting paid or getting adequate rest. They often do not see their wages rise even as their work days get longer. And when States enact progressive laws to provide truck drivers with paid sick leave or paid rest breaks, most of the industry works to quash these efforts through Federal preemption.

In light of these pressures on drivers, it’s no surprise that rigid, complex regulations – such as hours of service – feel unworkable. But we cannot paper over this problem by granting exemptions and stretching drivers even thinner through longer on-duty windows while ignoring the underlying operational realities.

Today, we will hear debate about whether – and why – there is a driver shortage. It’s simple - if we want to attract and retain quality drivers, we need to support policies to ensure that trucking remains a good job.

It’s also not surprising that safety indicators are moving in the wrong direction. Large truck fatalities have climbed each year since 2009 in real terms and as a percentage of miles travelled. Saving lives requires a strong commitment to safety as a top priority. Unfortunately, in recent years, debates in Congress have focused more on productivity and flexibility needs than safety outcomes. And in the last two years, the U.S. Department of Transportation has spent more time stalling and rolling back rules than advancing new safety initiatives.

It’s time for a new approach. I hear a lot from stakeholders and my colleagues about the “unintended consequences” of Federal rules. Rather than rendering existing rules worthless through endless exemptions, let’s be intentional. Let’s take a fresh look at a host of things that are not working in our system of goods movement and how they interact. Let’s figure out how Congress and the Administration can maintain the highest levels of safety with clear, enforceable regulations, but in a way that acknowledges the diversity of operations and the rapidly changing nature of the industry.

I also want to highlight cross border trucking. I opposed NAFTA 25 years ago, in part because it granted broad authority for Mexican carriers to drive on U.S. roads despite the significant discrepancies in safety standards between the two countries. I am pleased that the recently-negotiated United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA) includes language that reinforces the rights of the U.S. to limit grants of operating authority for Mexican carriers if it will harm U.S. companies or drivers.

Mr. Byrd, your testimony lays out troubling ways in which U.S. companies undermine these efforts to protect the domestic labor market and U.S. truck drivers by employing drivers from Mexico through the B-1 visa system. I believe Congress needs to look into this practice in detail.

Finally, I’d like to note that in your testimony, Mr. Spear, you talk about the industry’s opposition to tolling. Tolling and congestion pricing are topics that I believe warrant in-depth discussion as we look to surface reauthorization, and I expect we will have the opportunity delve into those at a future hearing.

I welcome each of the witnesses assembled here today. We have quite a diverse set of views on the panel, and I look forward to what I hope will be a lively and productive discussion.

Chair DeFazio statement as delivered can be found here.

Chair Norton statement as delivered can be found here.