American Trucking Associations President and CEO Bill Graves said the industry continues to play a central role in the U.S. economy, despite the myriad of challenges facing the industry and called on trucking to embrace looming changes.
"Trucking is a core building block in the economic foundation of America," Graves said today in his annual State of the Industry address. "We stand along with working men and women, the entrepreneurs who are willing to put capital at risk, with plants and equipment, energy, water, chemicals – all the fundamental elements that make up the economy."
Specifically, Graves pointed to challenges from Washington, the rail industry and economic pressures as being threats to the industry.
"Political change is underway and many of the traditional allegiances the business community has had with the Republican Party are necessarily going to need to be re-evaluated," said Graves, pointing a finger at Tea Party sympathizers. "While it's appropriate, and there is certainly merit in advocating for reduced government spending, smaller government, reducing our debt, limiting regulations and controlling the reach and intrusive nature of the federal government—insisting on having things their way, without a hint of willingness to compromise and threatening to 'burn the house down' otherwise, is a combination of foolish, ill-advised, reckless and detrimental actions to the future of this country."
Recent actions by Republicans in Washington, Graves said, will serve to hurt Republicans nationally and boost Democrats.
"If I was your political broker, my advice would be that you sell your Republican shares and buy the Democrats," he said.
Graves also talked about the necessity to change, specifically to increase, the fuel tax to address the nation's infrastructure needs, citing recent comments by former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood – once an opponent of raising the tax – advocating a tax hike.
"Our position in support of a fuel tax increase is absolutely the right position to take – and everyone on Capitol Hill knows it – they all know it," he said. "Ray LaHood always knew it, the President knows it, every member of Congress knows it, we're just fighting the plague of intellectual amnesia that's overwhelmed Washington on this and so many other issues."
Graves also cited coming changes that will have a positive impact on trucking: improved fuel efficiency standards, electronic logging, creation of a drug and alcohol testing clearinghouse and increased use of natural gas to power trucks; and changes whose impact is much less certain: new hours-of-service rules, the expansion of CSA and pressures on capacity and the driver shortage.
Graves took the opportunity to take a jab at the ubiquitous "Freight Rail Works" campaign, asking that "if it works so well, why does it require a $100 million ad campaign to tell everyone it works?"
Ultimately, he said the industry's greatest threat was also a strength: its incredible diversity.
"This industry's biggest obstacle to success is not the railroads; it's not the political environment or the policy and regulatory environment in Washington DC or state capitols. It's not high diesel fuel prices or an anticipated shortage of drivers. The biggest challenge we face will come from the incredible diversity of our industry and the easily fragmented constituency that we are," Graves said. "There's an old saying about 'hanging together or hanging alone.' The ATA record of success in successfully advancing your agenda and protecting your interest is one I'm very proud of. "
For full text of Graves' speech, click here.