Truckstop Operators Take Industry Concerns to Congress

NATSO, the national trade association representing truckstop and travel plaza operators, staged its annual government affairs conference in Washington, D.C., May 5-9, as more than 80 association members roamed the halls of Congress lobbying members in support of NATSO positions.

A key regulatory issue for truckstop operators is the planned phase-in of new low-sulfur diesel fuel mandated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Under the EPA rules, diesel fuel must be formulated to contain no more than 15 parts per million of sulfur by 2006 – a 97 percent reduction from the current 500-ppm sulfur content standard. The U.S. Department of Energy backs a plan that calls for a gradual phase-in of the new fuel. The DOE recommends requiring that 80 percent of on-highway diesel fuel production meet the 15-ppm standard by 2006, and the remaining 20 percent of production will be phased in over the next four years.

Truckstop operators say this planned phase-in would result in unrecoverable costs in building separate tanks and pumps for two fuels. NATSO supports the EPA’s low-sulfur rule but argues the agency should require all on-highway diesels to meet the lower sulfur standard by 2006. The association says the added cost of the phase-in program – estimated to be as much as $100,000 per location for some operators – would force many truckstops out of business and result in tighter fuel supplies and higher prices for truckers.

NATSO President and Chief Executive Officer Dewey W. Clower said members of Congress were receptive to the association’s message on the phase-in plan. “Democrats and Republicans alike expressed concern for the enormous costs (required) to market two grades of diesel fuel,” Clower said in a statement released following the conference. “We are confident Congress will strongly support legislation developed by NATSO and the Petroleum Marketers Association of America to correct the burdensome phase-in plan.”

Shortly after the conference, a bill was introduced in the House that would strike the phase-in provision and switch all diesel to the low-sulfur variety by 2006.

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NATSO also lobbied Congress on two fairness issues regarding federal fuel and excise taxes. Last year, in a case brought by a Michigan duty-free shop, a federal court ruled that U.S. Customs’ rules that prohibit duty-free shops along the nation’s northern and southern borders from selling duty-free gasoline and diesel were invalid. The court said that if Congress had intended to prevent duty-free shops from selling those items, it would have listed them in the federal statute governing such sales.

Truckstop operators claim this duty-free shop is selling diesel fuel cheaper than they can buy it at the terminal rack where the taxes are levied; an unfair trade situation.

NATSO says the federal highway trust fund stands to lose up to $6 million a year from the Michigan store’s sales of duty-free diesel and gasoline alone. If other duty-free shops begin selling tax-free fuel, the cost to the highway fund would be even greater.

NATSO members reported a tremendous amount of support among lawmakers for legislation preventing the sale of duty-free motor fuel.

Another issue of tax fairness NATSO has addressed several times in recent years involves fuel sales by Native American operators. Under federal rules, Native American businesses do not have to charge state and local taxes on goods they sell to their Native American customers. But truckstop operators claim these businesses sell tax-free fuel and cigarettes to non-Native American customers, in clear violation of federal law.

According to NATSO, states and local governments are losing millions of dollars each year from this practice. NATSO is asking Congress to pass legislation giving states a way to collect these taxes.

A fourth issue addressed by NATSO members was the commercialization of interstate right-of-ways. Trucking interests have pressed Congress to build more freeway rest areas and to allow the commercialization of other highway rest areas and rights-of-way to increase parking spaces for over-the-road trucks. In many urban areas, truckers say there is a severe shortage of trucking places, and they cite this shortage as a safety problem.

For its part, NATSO agrees there are parking shortages in some areas but believes the best way to address the issue is through the private sector. “Lawmakers and their aides clearly agreed that it ought to be the private sector, not the government, addressing shortages,” Clower said.

States can only increase rest areas by contracting with private parties who want to commercialize those areas to receive a return on their investments. Federal law now bans commercialization on the interstate right-of-ways, but some state DOTs support efforts to overturn that ban.

NATSO’s position is that Congress should reject commercialization of interstates and urge state and local governments to remove zoning and other regulatory obstacles to building new truckstops or expanding existing facilities.

The conference concluded with a pie reception held in the Capitol. This is the fourth year the association has hosted representatives and senators with pie and ice cream from nearby

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