NEWS FROM THE HILL – Dueling Hearings on Critical Issues – Ethanol and Highways Plus A New Legislative Alert
On Wednesday, the Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing entitled, “The Future of Transportation Fuels and Vehicles.” It caught my eye…and for good reason. I showed up to the hearing which was chaired by Rep. Shimkus – a power player from Illinois. Which is also a corn state. “Today, we will take a look at the current state of affairs and projected changes to transportation fuels and the vehicles they power,” said Shimkus, adding that he was aware of exciting work being done concerning internal combustion engines via the Co-Optima study, which looked at an integrated approach to new high-octane fuels and internal combustion engines optimized to run on them. All of these things he mentioned should be buzz words for rider: “changes to transportation fuels” that’s things like higher ethanol blends of gasoline and electric vehicles. “Internal combustion engines” – that’s one of the chief concerns from riders – that these higher ethanol blends do damage to a motorcycle’s engine. And then there were the buzz words important to the lawmakers like “impact on the consumer” and “prices at the pump”. Representatives Bill Johnson (OH) and Buddy Carter (GA) were the most vocal when the discussion turned to potential damaging effects on smaller engines. Whereas Representative Loebsack from Iowa sang a different tune spouting the benefits of ethanol including more money for American farmers, and cheaper prices at the pump. From my vantage point in the hearing room the 2 hour+ discussion only added more fuel (pardon the pun) to a very complicated fire….
And just down the hall, the Highways and Transit Subcommittee held its own hearing to hear views of transportation stakeholders regarding the benefits to the nation of long-term funding for highways and transit programs. I ran down the hill intermittently between the 2 hearings that were scheduled for the same time. Though most of my time was spent in the ethanol hearing, I did catch some interesting tidbits from the transportation hearing…. once again the Highway Trust Fund is facing insolvency. Many are still hopeful that President’s Trump Infrastructure Plan could help address this issue as well as heal some crumbling infrastructure facing our nation. But who pays for it and how continue to be the biggest obstacles. The point was made throughout the hearing that long-term certainty and stability in infrastructure funding is critical for states. Without this stability, the American people face the consequences. Highway and transit projects get delayed, project costs go up, and drivers (and riders!) continue to suffer the impacts of congestion and inefficiency on our nation’s roadways.
I reported last week that the discussion over ethanol got heated when President Trump got involved, calling a meeting at the White House to try and broker a deal. No such deal was made…so now we’re starting to see a flurry of congressional activity. Sen. John Cornyn (TX) is supposedly releasing a bill overhauling the program, but in the meantime, Democrats have decided they’re done waiting. On Thursday, Sen. Tom Udall (NM) and Rep. Peter Welch (VT) released The GREENER Fuels Act in both the House and Senate which would overhaul federal government’s ethanol mandate in an attempt to reduce incentives for corn-based ethanol and similar biofuels. The legislation aims to boost so-called second-generation biofuels, those made from feedstock like waste products and woody crops. TBD if this will go anywhere – me thinks not. Why? Because they’re Democrats, neither of which have the majority in either Chamber and also, because there is no shortage of legislation to address the Renewable Fuel Standard…what is lacking is the will power and agreement to take ANY of those bills up for debate. We’re watching closely for you and still making sure Congress knows that riders across America have concerns…
EXECUTIVE & REGULATORY UPDATES: Traffic Safety Facts Annual Tables Plus My Meeting with the Head of NHTSA
This week, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released a new interactive online portal for its annual traffic safety report – Traffic Safety Facts: A Compilation of Motor Vehicle Crash Data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System and the General Estimates System. This portal gives users the ability to generate a number of statistics about traffic crashes including motorcycles. I did a quick search for motorcycles to see what I could come up with – here are some interesting factoids…about 55% of all motorcycle crashes involved another vehicle in transit, 23% were collisions with a fixed object, while the remaining were non-collisions – i.e. the bike went down, despite not hitting anything. Check it out yourself:
The portal can be accessed at: https://cdan.nhtsa.gov/TSFTables/TSFAR.htm
I got a chance to sit down with the head of NHTSA yesterday, Deputy Administrator Heidi King. All in all we had a good conversation. I shared with her our concerns over the autonomous vehicles guidance and the lack of mention of motorcyclists. After explaining my points, I presented her with a study and news articles that demonstrate instances where cars on “autopilot” or cars with automatic emergency braking are hitting riders. She expressed what I interpreted as sincere concern and said she would be willing to open up the guidance and make changes. I gave her the language we would like and she said we should see activity on this from NHTSA in the next 30-60 days. We shall see. But I was encouraged! Then she asked us a favor…2 favors actually. The first is her pet issue of drugged driving. She says the Administration is concerned that while drunk driving is on the decline, drugged driving is more prevalent than ever as states start to legalize marijuana. She asked what, if anything, were our state motorcycle rights partners doing to address this (i.e. Ride Straight initiatives etc.) and could we at the national level also send a message? The second favor was that she wanted a list – a list of all the things that the State Highway Safety Offices are doing RIGHT and a list of what they are doing WRONG. I warned her that the latter category mail be a long list…but she still said she wanted it. I need to noodle on this and figure out the best way to collect this information. If you have ideas or thoughts or suggestions about this – shoot me an email. I think we should play ball on this with her. I don’t know what, if anything, will come of it, but we always yell that we want a seat at the table, and now we have it – so we should probably have some stuff ready to talk about…
The big news in Washington this week was the announcement by President Donald Trump to impose tariffs of 25 percent on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum, with provisional exceptions for Canada and Mexico. The tariffs are likely to trigger a trade war with the European Union, China and other countries unless they are also exempted. Wait, Megan, what the hell does this have to do with motorcycles? I’m getting to it!!! In the past when similar activities occurred the European Union retaliated with their own tariffs …on Harley-Davidson Motorcycles. Okay…still…Megan, what does this have to do with me? Stay with me…the potential concern is that if Europe DOES do this and taxes Harley, they (meaning Harley) will have to pass on those costs to their customer. And THAT is where it COULD impact you. We will continue to watch this and also work with our counterparts in Europe. The European motorcycle associations are already delivering the message that motorcycles should be excluded from the list of retaliation measures.
MRF NEWS & ANNOUNCEMENTS –
I don’t like asking for money and if you don’t like getting asked then you should probably stop reading.
If you are still reading, I sure appreciate it. You are going to get an email on Tuesday next week asking you to come to Bikers Inside the Beltway – this is our big event we do in May where bikers across America ride in to talk directly to their lawmakers. This one day of meetings keeps me busy for the rest of the year doing follow ups, providing background information, making connections and getting our issues advanced. And this year is a big one…its our 10-year anniversary. So…here is the deal. We don’t charge anyone to come to this. We are just grateful people come on their own dime and take off work because they care about the cause. But this event DOES cost us a pretty penny. We have to rent rooms for a prep session meeting, prepare materials, print off issue summaries, contact sheets, and cool MRF folders plus get special permitting which allows us to park our bikes in front of the capitol. So this year, we decided to ask for donations to help us offset the cost to put this event on. Many of our state organizations and partners have generously donated, but we are only about halfway to our goal of $4,000 (which for the record, is still less than what we actually pay to put this on) so we are hoping that you, my dear and faithful readers, might consider making a special one time freedom fighter donation to help us recoup our costs for doing this critical event. If you aren’t able to make it to D.C. but you know the importance of our work, I’ll ask that you send a check to the office in whatever amount you can spare. Even if its $5 – every little bit helps. We can also take your credit card info over the phone. If you do send a check by mail, I’ll ask that you address it to Michael ‘Boz’ Kerr – the man who started Bikers Inside the Beltway 10 years ago. Though I never met Boz and he has passed on, I’d like to think that wherever he is, he will get a kick out of it. Here is the info once again of where to send your donation:
Michael “Boz” Kerr
Motorcycle Riders Foundation
2221 S Clark Street, 11th Floor
Arlington, VA 22202
Until next time…
Vice-President of Government Affairs & Public Relations
The Motorcycle Riders Foundation