Will the new slate of elected officials make a difference?

Change isn't always for the better


The recent elections caused a major sea change in the way our government will do its job. That is a fact that is indisputable. A directional shift that began occurring in 2006 with the majority change in the U.S. House of Representatives was a significant, protracted event. The 2008 elections furthered the gains and ushered in a near impervious period of control for one party.

The people wanted something different.

That was followed by a few political miscalculations that basically scared the crap out of most voters. In the 2010 elections, the country showed that it really didn't like giving that much power to the government and we are now in a situation where some kind of balance has been achieved.

I remember in December 2006, Ann Wilson, our senior VP of government affairs, telling me: "If you think you don't like government regulations and anti-business legislation now, you haven't seen anything yet." She was right.

I sat for several months shaking my head every time I read the news. It took me a few minutes to remember who OSHA was the first time I saw proposed regulations and enforcement news coming out of that group. I think it was the first time in several years that they had done anything politically visible. Now they were doing a lot.

Shortly after that discussion with Ann, she arranged a meeting for us with a senior staff person from the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee. This was one of those "get-acquainted with your new colleagues" type of meetings that happen all the time in Washington. The staff person made a point of telling all of us repeatedly: "Carbon output is going to be the single most significant issue for your industry."

I didn't have much of an idea what he was talking about until one of the more visible senators from a really big state on the West Coast began talking about carbon credits. I had no idea what those were, but she was claiming that it would be a vehicle used to raise obscene amounts of tax revenue to "restructure our new green economy, with a new green industry and new green jobs."

I really had no idea that any economy, industry or job was anything other than green – as in the color of money. I was thinking about economies, industries and jobs in the variety of green applied to our collection of green bills, in various denominations with pictures of former presidents and other famous deceased individuals.

It wasn't long that with lightning speed the buzz all over the country became one of carbon output, credits, trading, restrictions, carbon taxes and something called Cap and Trade. We were all numbed into thinking that there was no way this would negatively affect us, until our legislators started to put together an energy bill that used my least favorite word in its title: comprehensive.

Whenever you hear the word comprehensive used in conjunction with legislation, be afraid. Think of legislation as a form of corporal punishment, like a spanking. Then, think in terms of what would constitute comprehensive spanking. Would that scare you? It is the same thing with comprehensive legislation.

With the turns of events occurring over the past few years: the sinking economy; the full shift to a single majority party in our government; a lot of discussion about the ways that we could alter the way we do business; and several other things, it became a little more than this country could absorb. Significant changes kept coming, and at an accelerated pace.

Without getting into areas that are not directly related to our industry, like health care, banking, credit markets or government ownership of industry, things got pretty hairy, as us old timers like to say.

The truck industry, particularly those who make powertrains and trucks, was under assault from 2000 through 2010 with environmental legislation. The soot and NOx output of heavy trucks was mandated to a reduction of over 90 percent, at a per-vehicle cost of more than $25,000 versus pre-2000 vehicles.

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