WASHINGTON-Congress has passed a $38 billion appropriations bill for the Department of Transportation that, among other things, demands a tire fuel economy labeling rule no later than next June and extends the moratorium on enforcing federal mandates on rubberized asphalt use. Advocates of asphalt rubber are hoping a compromise plan will pass as part of legislation designating the National Highway System. Time ran out Oct. 8, however, as Congress recessed before a House-Senate conference on the bill had been scheduled.
The Senate agreed to the DOT appropriations bill for fiscal year 1995, by an 89-11 vote on Sept. 29, the day after the House approved the bill.
Among the many provisions and amendments in the DOT bill is a ``Tire Labeling Program.''
``...NHTSA has requested comments on a tire labeling program to help consumers identify tires that have low rolling resistance and hence save fuel,'' the amendment reads. ``(We) applaud this action and direct NHTSA to promul-gate (a) rule to implement this program no later than June 1, 1995.''
The bill also contains a provision that extends for one year the moratorium-in effect during fiscal year 1994-on Section 1038 of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991.
Section 1038 orders the states to use a steadily increasing percentage of rubberized asphalt in federally funded highway projects. The moratorium forbids the Federal Highway Administration from using any of its funds to promote or enforce that law.
The House version of the National Highway System (NHS) bill, however, contained a compromise on the asphalt rubber issue. Section 108 of the bill modified the requirements on the states, to lessen the percentage of asphalt rubber they must use each year and give them greater leeway in finding alternative uses for crumb rubber.
Asphalt rubber makers supported Section 108 as the best chance for obtaining government procurement of their product.
The Senate version of the NHS bill, however, contained neither Section 108 nor many other House provisions.
The House chose its conferees for the NHS bill Sept. 30, but the Senate did not do so before the Oct. 8 recess.
Congress could come back in a lame-duck session in late November to consider the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. But it is unlikely to extend its business to other legislation during that time, according to Sean Reed of the Rubber Pavements Association.
``The administration will take a lot of criticism from the Republicans for a lame-duck session,'' Mr. Reed said. ``If the session is confined to GATT, it probably will help the Democrats,'' he added, ``but a more substantive calendar could damage them.''
Asphalt rubber manufacturers are divided on whether a federal mandate for procuring their product is good or bad for business, according to Mr. Reed.
Although some manufacturers are disappointed, ``there are many positive things happening in the industry,'' he said. Research has brought many improvements to the product in the last few years, and the industry has committed $9 million to further research over the next two years.